Hesistation Eyes

(Heatstroke; 2005)

By Amir Nezar | 4 October 2007

So you wish Jeff Tweedy would quit with the Neil Young impression and just do his pre-A Ghost is Born, gently tweaked and modulated Americana again? Well tough beans.

OK, so let’s not be overly pessimistic. Who says no one can pick up that ditched torch? Why not (you guessed it) The Foxymorons? For those who have become despondent for lack of songs that deal with melancholy subject manner, Hesitation Eyes is the perfectly bitter cup of slightly burning tea.

Combining more comprehensible lyricism with Americana musicianship that can hit as hard, though not as often as Wilco’s Summer Teeth or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, The Foxymorons go well with any broken heart, bent cigarette, or good taste for music and subtlety. The group, technically the duo of David Dewese and Jerry James, possess remarkable judgment in terms of arrangement, dynamics, and melody. Under (Centro-matic production man) Matt Pence’s steady hand, the airy, lonesome songs of Hesitation Eyes break and bloom, and can utterly consume the heart.

The group’s lyrics alone could collapse a ventricle; the hazily anxious sentiment of “Still in Love” positively bleeds out of the speakers as James wearily confesses, “I don’t wanna know if you go away / Oh no I’m thinking of you / An unlit cigarette in my hand / Just so I can take the news.” Of course, the duo only augments their emotional impact with appropriately-matched songwriting; the song’s arrangement threatens to fracture at any point as a slow moving bass line can barely lift itself to meet an evanescent xylophone hook. Finally a heavily distorted guitar comes in to fully articulate the song’s mournful sentiment with a beautiful slump of melody. It re-enters for a second chorus appearance before the song cuts out on a scrape of feedback, and the bleak hopelessness of the situation collapses.

Melodically, the group rarely hits a dud; “Lazy Librarian’s Son” follows a sleepy minor-key melody through background forests of electronic tweaking and streams of reverberating guitar chords as James and Dewese join forces in gently wounded harmony. The melody shifts urgently into a rhythmically intense, distorted guitar surge before drooping back into its initial forlorn melodic pattern. “Between the Lines,” follows a melody The Shins would’ve been proud of through a two-stepping guitar lead before pushing forward into a remarkably subtle bridge put into relief against light banjo plucks and gossamer harmony. Again, James’s lyrics are chokingly powerful as he croons, “I’ve spent / The last two in this accident / And my heart has taken a sinister bend.”

Nor does the group shy away from marked pace changes, in addition to internal phrasing variations; “Bending Back” nearly tears through its two-and-a-half minute length with strong hooks and dynamic time-signature shifts. “Everything Changes” smartly offsets the descending, morose heartbreak of “Pistol By Your Side” with its ascending guitar hook.

That astuteness in arrangement, emotional balance and imbalance, and pacing is what makes Hesitation Eyes such an impressive stroke. The group occasionally does choke on a lyrical dud; the chorus of “Everything Changes” – a reiteration of the title – is bland, and James’s consistent downtempo depression can be a bit much on “Are You Tired,” especially given the song’s brief, somewhat directionless duration. But frankly, the only substantial disappointment to weigh on the album is its choice of a closer; the title track is conventional and its bass hook is merely adequate compared to some of the group’s more stunning highs, like the emotional wear-and-tear of “Harvard Hands.” The greater part of the album is on par with some of today’s best Americana, and given the nature of its long-distance recording, is only that much more impressive in context.

So Wilco may be irretrievably down Tweedy’s chosen path (which, I happen to think, isn’t half bad), and Songs: Ohia-cum-Magnolia Electric Company might be too horribly depressing and directionless to bear these days. But that just means it’s time to look for different, promising talent. You’ll be sure you’ve found some when you light up that late-night cigarette, or stir that crappy morning coffee to the tune of Hesitation Eyes.