New Steam EP

(Plug Research; 2007)

By Dom Sinacola | 2 December 2007

Should you know Kent Lambert, a solo artist who has brandished his keytar like he invented the thing, you'd know Songs the Animals Taught Us (2005) by Roommate, and you'd know how that debut album got Kent signed to Plug Research around the same time as David Thomas Broughton, another bedroom prodigy able to re-limn the walls of his bedroom. If you've been unaware of Kent Lambert, it might be safe to be reassured that his sophomore LP, scheduled for release in the fall, is an expansion -- all signs point to maturity -- because his band has grown from one and his voice has loosened, has a nascent breath. The evidence, the disarmingly great New Steam EP to be released electronically at the end of the month, is disarming because of its breadth, an exploration of a comfortably claustrophobic sound that, while still relatively tiny, creates an amalgam any solid EP should be: a whetting for the eardrums so that future noise involves a healthier snap.

"New Steam," the titular first song revealed from the amorphous autumn album, does nothing to dispel the myth, myth assumed, of new stirrings. Katie Young's votive bassoon, drawn out in repetitious moans more occupied by the fullness of the instrument's range than by melody, is punctuated by Erika Decker's violin plucks, challenging the typical self-seriousness of any typical bedroom recording, of even Songs, by butting playful staccato against a reedy low end. Of course, Decker's violin does what a violin tends to do, gathering its cohorts and shielding the back of the mix with grandiose, rising froth, but the logic of "New Steam" isn't brilliant in its incessant build, but just in the space it provides. Kent's never sounded so confident with his vocals, and even though the lyrics are as frustratingly obtuse and as politically wispy as many cuts from Animals ("Maybe we can dream the news away," he fades out), his tonal control is masterful for such a thin voice, his harmonies subtle and soothing. Maybe a solo artist culling a local band from bright-eyed cronies and then aiming for something organic and wide to temper the sterility often plaguing accessible instruments and methods is a predictable maturity. And maybe I'm just glad Kent's aiming for the target I always knew he'd had in his sights.

"Quarter Horses" and "Until Then," a Red Red Meat cover and a Broadcast cover, respectively, seem proper choices for Kent's new quiet vision, and "Horses," especially, meets a reluctant, insatiable need to branch out; Red Red Meat's There's a Star Above the Manger Tonight (1997) introduced slight synth and sampling into Rutili's and Deck's arsenal, drawing their "bluesy" roots into more conflicting terrain. Kent pushes harder, wrapping hints of Americana angst in pocket game squiggles and secretly melodic screeches. Granted, Rutili's lyrics of broken summers (I think? .no mention of "Jezebels" or "brown-eyed girls" or, even, "boys of summer") lend no grace to Lambert's clunkier words on the EP, but even in the guises of android love, Lambert can imbue his cover with similar sentiment. That said, I enjoy the switcheroo he pulls, giving a treatment expected of one band to the other, allowing "Until Then" a more stately pace and jagged banjo and keytars, dredging up original, beautiful structures from opposite means.

"Emidio Anotci" is a weightless addendum, an instrumental passage intended, we're told, for a film about an old Roman in remembrance. While it never really achieves any somnambulant or nostalgic mood, it does quickly establish a chain of feelings that may, come new LP time, link into something heady, substantial, and exciting. Good job, EP, you've baited my anticipation. I hope a lot of people download you.