Album Review: Zinn Arcade, by Washington Irving

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You know how the Academy Awards always has a candidate or two for Best Picture that you’ve never heard of? It’s not that anyone brainstormed a fake title to fill out the list or released an art-house film exclusively in Southwestern Wyoming; they’re usually late additions, films released within the deadline for consideration but that won’t get in front of a lot of people in time to be well known.

Zinn Arcade is the local-album equivalent, and if it doesn’t win an award for Best Local Album of 2008, Washington Irving‘s latest belongs on the list of finalists.

You can hear elements of early-’90s fringe-alternative bands such as Hum (“Talkin’ Bout the Beaubourg Blues”) and more-clever-if-sometimes-opaque lyrics (“Procrastination Is For Lovers,” “Better Than the Bends”) that at times turn uproariously funny lines (“You should call me Kim Deal, my status is gigantic” at the beginning of “Everyone’s Evaporatin'”). The guitars are crunchy in tone and music is consistently propulsive; songs don’t get slow, just more low-key with less percussion and acoustic guitars. Unlike other indie bands, Washington Irving doesn’t shy away from the grandiose, either, whether it’s the occasional power chord or drum fill or that great Rock convention, the chanted “oh,” which fills the second half of “Brothers and Sisters.” Washington Irving is an indie-influenced band that chooses not to be indie. There’s a lot of fun in that when you get used to it.

They do give in to one indie-rock indulgence, however: awkward song titles. “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House Is Playing In My Apartment,” “Manifest Destiny’s Child” and “Torture? I Hardly Knew Her” are all cute turns of phrase, but clever for clever’s sake is a needless distraction. The listener would be better serviced with more to-the-point titles. It’s a shortcoming that’s easily forgotten, however, as the music is far too engaging (tempo-change shots would be an evil drinking game) and too well recorded (props to Blake Walker for nailing the low-fi-but-not-basement sonic feel) to pay attention to peripheral stuff.

While we’re talking peripherals, however, let’s take one more moment to point out Daniel Zender’s simple but surprisingly effective cover art: a super-high-contrast photograph of a broadcast satellite dish under a streetlamp. Its meaning is highly interpretive, if there is one at all, but you’ll remember it when it’s not around, even if you’re not sure why. The same can be said of Zinn Arcade‘s music: It’s twelve tracks of music you’ll remember the moment you hear it again, even if you have a really hard time naming the songs individually.

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2 Responses to “Album Review: Zinn Arcade, by Washington Irving”

  1. Your last chances to catch Washington Irving are « Says:

    […] this trio, but for now it is true that these are the last for-sure chances to see the group behind one of our favorite albums of 2008. Don’t waste […]

  2. The Show Report, 8/1: Washington Irving, we barely knew ye « Says:

    […] singer Brett O’Neal leaving for law school in Illinois, Washington Irving hangs it up with one of the 2008’s best local albums under its belt and, hopefully, a fantastic farewell show to be remembered by. Good luck, […]

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