Andre Ethier


(Paper Bag; 2006)

By Dom Sinacola | 6 November 2007

The thing I like about Andre Ethier — lyrically, at least, but maybe more in implication tonally — is an acceptance, rather than a rejection, of that whole “grass is greener” deal. You know the one. Anecdotally, the previous supposition is a mixed bag: on one hand, if you take what I assume at face value, you are presented with an melancholic downer of a song collection, which can be alright, but something of a piddling static; on another, the audience would have to ignore Ethier’s assurance that the album reveals a “newlywed” side, a twitterpated Andre; on yet another, wholly confounding hierarchies of Contentment sprout like branches from the whorls of the “singer-songwriter’s” new beard. But of course, all these facets can exist at once, right? Music’s a whirlwind of emotions and resonance, right! To the extent that Ethier (whose other band, the Deadly Snakes, is a shambling throwback — a good throwback — to garage blues and hornfaced Americana) admits a certain degree of lurid, eternal discontent, he’s got a Love Album on his hands.

For one, the production is a fantastically handled vessel for any ideas of dissatisfaction. On the surface, Ethier’s voice ruminates over decades of dirty larynxes, from Cohen to Cave, and saunters off pitch in grand attempts at transcendence. Better for it, because if he didn’t push himself in almost every song he’d only be a product of his obligatory heroes. By his side, Christopher Sandes’ piano, organ, or slide guitar sometimes gains obvious control of the mix, usually the last sounds to wring out from the track. The rhythm duo, Pickles and Price (Deadly Snakes Matthew Carlson and Andrew Gunn), ostensibly seem a thin bed, double bass and fuzzed drumkit for undercurrent only. Then, upon further inspection, the instruments, including Ethier’s voice, sound magnificently hungry. No longer content with their precedent roles, each piece prays for a stronger flavor; Ethier’s acoustic, more slapping strum than aid to the melody, wants to be a cymbal; the cymbals, thin and flat, want to be snares; the snares, indistinguishably blurred, want to be white noise, and his voice, singular while miserably nostalgic, so loud in the fore, seeks to continuously break free from the white noise of his forebears. Maybe this cyclical, semantic trick is straining the actual intent of the production, but I think it works. Check out the subtle electric squall that enters a third of the way into “You Still Have Me” and try and deny its attempts to escape. It can’t. It splats against the wall, trapped.

Unfortunately, nothing else on Secondathallam is as overtly successful as the production. Ethier’s lyrics are frustrating, usually odes to a significant “little girl” with undertones of monogamous impossibilities. I like the idea: for every successful coupling, something else always bubbles at the horizon. The grass will have a different color on the other side. No hedonistic admission, just a frank reality exists beneath his saccharine testaments. Sometimes the words work, for all their simplicity, like, “Every day, every night / Is as you wish / Still you won’t be satisfied,” or the titular repetition of “You Still Have Me,” a phrase that mounts intensity with sorrow. Sometimes Ethier loses his way, like with the storming “In With the Prim,” which, for every line, “Out with the Ayn Rand-ers” there’s, “Out with the fag sandlers.”…Huh? And then we get “Dad’s Song” which is at the mercy of a fucking creepy extended metaphor.

Mostly, Ethier’s melodies are pleasant but ultimately innocuous, spaced by moments of sheer visceral brilliance. “Honeybee’s” coda is Ethier wailing over a Dixieland soul band, horns and piano screaming after one of those classic “fake fade-outs.” Besides dipping deep into a sweet choral monotony, “You Can’t Be Satisfied” hides Spanish guitar and what should be a melodica, both, when discovered, offering a lumbering calm. Then, “You Still Have Me’s” juxtaposition of stunted riffs and sour, legato vocal lines is a helpful bit of juice to the album’s dumbing and bleak second half. There, “In With the Prim” is an enemy of its own heavy cymbals and “Dad’s Song” recycles dried up ideas already abused within the album’s preceding tracks, coming off a terrible bit of Boss ephemera. “Blacker Gold” is just plain snoozy. .

Secondathallam’s ideas about marriage and desire and unquenchable urges are interesting, but, in the end, resolve nothing and barely register as more than dabs of angst. The production and mixing are beautiful, but in light of Ethier’s penchant for trumping mood and first-takes over developed song structure, the lack of sophistication in the latter becomes painfully obvious. And yet, I continue to talk in circles, admitting that something works, but then digressing on how it fails; implying a concept that is intriguing, but then stressing Ethier’s dubious intentions for the same. I guess that’s just how the cookie crumbles. The grass is always greener until you actually set foot on the other side.