Golden Smog

Another Fine Day

(Lost Highway; 2006)

By David Greenwald | 8 January 2008

The liner notes for Golden Smog’s Another Fine Day look like a scrapbook, all construction paper and cut-up photos. For once, here’s a book (OK, album) you can judge by its cover: Golden Smog is the closest thing alt-country has to a Broken Social Scene, a messy, pieced-together conglomeration somehow greater than the sum of its parts. Or at least that’s what the band used to be.

Golden Smog begin in the late ‘80s, starting off its recording career with the On Golden Smog EP in 1992 and following it up with Down By The Old Mainstream and 1998’s Weird Tales. Since then, Golden Smog’s most visible (and least available) member has become Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. In the years since Weird Tales, Wilco has established itself as one of America's most forward-thinking rock bands and all but abandoned its alt-country origins. Meanwhile, Gary Louris’ band, the Jayhawks, broke up and Dan Murphy’s Soul Asylum was taking a decade off. The result is that Another Fine Day has less Tweedy and more Big Star; much of the album owes a debt to the seminal power-pop band, eschewing alt-country for straightforward rock songs.

As befits the project’s original good-times intentions, the songs tend to be loud and loose. Golden Smog isn’t a bar band, but it wouldn’t be too out of place at Maloney’s on Margarita Monday. The band doesn’t play anything too close to the vest: opener “You Make It Easy” charges forward with bent electric guitar strings, and the title track offers a radio-ready chorus that’s clichéd even if it’s not being ironic: “Woke up / Can’t find your direction / Another fine day.”

The better songs are the ones that stay focused on melody, as in the shimmering “5-22-05.” “Gone," a track that gets submerged in Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-like production without sounding too dreamy, retains a little country grit thanks to a harmonica solo and heavy-hearted lyrics: "And all the alcohol that everyone consumed / could not erase the void." The folky, Tweedy-led “Long Time Ago” is another highlight, with double-tracked acoustic guitars and nostalgic lyrics recalling a sister’s birth. It’s a sweet, searching song (“There must be some reason for flesh and blood / some other purpose for staying in touch / oh, we shared so much”) that takes a potentially flimsy subject and gives it just enough weight. Of course, it’s followed up by the overdriven and over-the-top chugging of “Corvette,” which offers such nuggets as “Don’t it blow your mind? Don’t it blow your mind again? Don’t it blow your mind for the third time?”

Despite the assortment of songwriters (the liners credit seven) and musicians, the album manages to maintain a fairly consistent level of quality. It could have avoided a few dips here and there, particularly the ones that stray into electric Tom Petty-isms, but it’s hard to fault a group of old friends too much for wanting to play what former Tweedy bandmate Jay Bennett once famously called “easy rockers.” For Golden Smog, this is another fine album; fine, fun, but never great enough to make you forget that these guys are in other bands. Then again, there’s always Broken Social Scene.