Assembled over the course of five years, Voices in a Rented Room features two Bay Area musicians I've long admired: singer-guitarist Ben Chasny (Comets on Fire, Six Organs of Admittance) and singer-guitarist Donovan Quinn (Skygreen Leopards). I'm sure it's coincidental, since they sound nothing alike, but their handle reminds me of Boston band Big Dipper's shout-along anthem "Younger Bums" ("The younger bums will likely outlive us!").
Together, Chasny and Quinn make the kind of music I would expect—and I mean that in the best possible sense. I expected folk with a freak bent, and that's exactly what New Bums deliver. Aside from the outfits with which they've been involved, their full-length debut brings to mind Chris Bell and Jordan Lee of Mutual Benefit, artists who share their interest in acoustic instrumentation and nature imagery (rain, boughs, birds, etc.). Though not their love of profanity.
I particularly like "The Killers and Me," which layers closely-mic'd guitar picking over ghostly ambience in the vein of Big Star's "Big Black Car."* I've never been a fan of coffee-shop folk, but noir folk is another matter, and a dark and dusty feel permeates this track. By contrast, "Your Bullshit" bears a glittery trace of glam as the two add a stratospheric electric guitar line to their acoustic foundation.
Throughout Voices, Chasny and Quinn often sing in unison, and they have a sympathetic style, but one vocal at a time would work better (or one singer adding counterpoint to the other). It contributes to the dreamy, democratic feel of the enterprise, but definition and clarity can create greater impact. It would also make the lyrics easier to understand, although I had no problem making out the line, "You only get fucked in a pigeon town." Ain't that the truth. Here's to more profane, lovingly orchestrated introspection from this multi-talented duo.
* Granted, there's more keyboard to the Alex Chilton selection, but the vibe is similar.
Credit and/or blame where it's due: "Old Drunk America" comes from Drag City's press notes. DC releases Voices on Feb 18. New Bums play Chop Suey Apr 10.