Time Since Western
A Sun Goes Down
By Eric Sams | 24 February 2009
Andy Brawner, erstwhile member of my BFF band Pale Young Gentlemen, describes his new gig Time Since Western’s debut album, A Sun Goes Down, as “just a dusty little pop record.” Andy’s a super nice guy, polite in correspondence at the very least, and he certainly occupies the position to have the most intimate knowledge of this music, but I don’t spot-on agree with the modest self-analysis.
Now, second guessing a performer’s intent is the worst kind of boorish critical presumption, so this is a defense of my alternative description, which is, distilled into a phrase: “well conceived.” I know what Brawner means by “dusty,” and I suppose the word has equal value as a self-deprecating jag and an assertion of authentic cool, but it’s too static. Here’s how you can tell. When the spiderline cracks spreading slowly outward through “Near Impossible” finally shatter inward at the minute-and-a-half mark and the guitar solo sets off a deluge of shards there ain’t a fucking thing dusty about it. It’s a slick moment, a hairpin turn. But the cracks were there in the fragile structure of the song all along. It’s too carefully orchestrated for such an inert descriptor. Slow, maybe, or reserved, but no, not dusty.
I also take issue with “little,” though, again, I understand its use. It is viable but ultimately misleading. The layering of the mix here is way too careful and broad-based for “little.” There are too many squelches and growls of indeterminate origin, placed exactly at insertion points calculated for maximum effect, too many little four-bar patches of staccato piano (“All This Before Tonight”) or pulse-y trashcan drumbeats punching up otherwise meandering melodies (“Nothern Down”). There’s plenty of space in these songs, carved between the crackly mic setup and the reverbed, um, everything else. So maybe “spare.” Maybe, “diffuse.” But not “little.” Too much effort; too many subtle shifts and lithe non-sequiturs; too much subtle variety between tracks; too big to be “little.”
It certainly is a pop record though. One listen to a song like “CST” will clear that right up for you. The breathy falsetto when Brawner sings the refrain “I’m coming home again / comin’ home again / comin’ home again / from feelin’ far away,” and the guitars kicking in on the last repetition to carry the line home. Yeah, definitely pop. And that might be the drawback here. Brawner’s managed to craft a record that is at once too obvious and too subtle.
Remember those squelches and growls I mentioned? Well, there really are quite a few of them. Hell, they’re legion. They don’t come through in early listens. Paradoxically, this is because they’re all placed right were they’re supposed to be. Right where they sound right. And because they all sound right it’s hard not to look past them. And if you do that you’re going to hear a coffee shop album, albeit a serviceable one. It’s just that they’re small, see, and their oddity is belied by their brevity and their salience. A Sun Goes Down is a very particular kind of grower. It’s a craft to which one must bend down close in order to appreciate its ornateness. Maybe Andy’s right. Maybe it is a dusty little pop record. Maybe—with Lil Wayne croaking out teenage heartbreak anthems and bands like the All American Rejects still inexplicably relevant—a description that plain and simple isn’t underselling at all.