By Erik Stefan
If a band plays live in a theatre, and no one was there to hear them…
I’ve been told that summertime is not the optimal time to visit Venice. The canals double as open sewers and the stench is said to be pungent. That said, I’ve never actually been to Venice, summertime or otherwise. So, I have to base my knowledge of the city on conjecture and text books, neither of which can do the city justice.Sand & Lines runs into a similar problem. I first discovered Venice is Sinking via an in-store performance at Criminal Records in Atlanta, where their set demonstrated why they’ve become one of Athens’s premiere indie-pop groups. The songs had a remarkable seamlessness as Venice is Sinking reigned in their stylistic departures by building on its core foundations: droning guitars, humming organs, purring horns, whimsical violins, and plain lovely co-ed vocal harmonies. Sand & Lines runs a similar gamut and aptly represents the aforementioned strengths of the band.
So, why is it that I listen to Sand & Lines and genuinely want more from this band? It’s highly likely that I’ve romanticized that Record Store Day performance and set unattainable expectations. After all, they did give me this CD.
Sand & Lines leaves me with the same ache I get when I eat a Lean Cuisine; I want more. It’s an ambitious effort in both sound and structure, and the record deserves a brief back story. The album was recorded over a five-day period in the now fire-ravaged Georgia Theatre that masterfully dressed the songs in dark hues of reverb, an apt color considering the album’s content. More impressively, the songs were recorded live to tape via only two microphones with no post-production. In our modern Pro Tools age, this approach is rarely undertaken. Once upon a time, it was the only way. Today, it’s a novelty.
The songs, for the most part, are stellar when taken alone. There’s a good mix of covers (highlighted by Galaxie 500‘s “Tugboat Captain” and Waylon Jenning‘s “The Wurlitzer Prize”) and originals (must listen: “Falls City”). The only song that I could’ve done without is the well-worn “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. It’s been done before, and I’m not sure Venice is Sinking added to its legacy. Otherwise, Venice is Sinking makes the handful of covers their own, engulfing the country-twinged tunes with layers of slightly gritted guitars and moaning organs. Violins and horns jut in and out of the mix, adding ornamentation to already well-decorated songs.
Unfortunately, when played from front to back, the record seems to sag a bit. There isn’t much pep, and the dusky reverb has a hibernation-inducing quality. Layering the songs with echo, the live recording approach has made the album less “punchy” than a traditional studio effort, and, as a result, less attention grabbing. Which brings me to…
The fact that this record is live without an audience. The magic shared between Venice is Sinking and the crowd at Criminal Records is missing on Sand & Lines. Instead, the band is left alone to conjure up the energy and anticipation that the fans typically supply. In concert, songs tend to be played faster with more momentum. While the songs on this record are splendid, that drive is missing.
Now, getting back to Venice, you can either visit the city or guess what it’s really like based on the opinions of others. I would recommend the former, as I would also do for Venice Is Sinking. Sand & LInes is representative of their sound, but you would be better served hearing these songs live. Check them out.
Rating: AAAa (that’s 3.5 As)