Bitter Bitter Weeks
Peace Is Burning Like A River
High Two (HT011)
Perhaps it's having the respiratory disease, cystic fibrosis, that's given Bitter Bitter Weeks mastermind Brian McTear an appreciation for life-affirming, indie-pop/rock arrangements that breathe fully.
Or maybe it's all the years he spent producing and engineering records for Matt Pond PA and Mazarin that have made him embrace a wide-screen backdrop for dreamy, narcotic jangle-pop melodies that almost make you forget Galaxie 500 said goodbye a long time ago. I said ... almost.
Whatever the reason for McTear parting ways with the minimalism and dank environs of Bitter Bitter Weeks' albums of old, Peace Is Burning Like A River feels like a breath of fresh air. "Terrified," with its crisp, easy-going rhythms, light guitar and bittersweet, intertwined male/female harmonies, is an alluring pop song that captures the late-'80s/early-'90s pop bliss of the Blake Babies or the Lemonheads.
And the delicate guitar strum and breezy "la, la, las" of Amy Morrissey turn the growing lushness of "Danger in the Halls" expand the intimate limits of Evan Dando's most expressive work.
Organ parts played by Jesse Gallagher and McTear's own expiring voice, as well as the refrigerated beauty of backing vocals by Amy Morrissey, Quentin Stoltzfus, Sean Aylward, Mike Kennedy and Joey Sweeney, create cavernous room to roam for flashes of electric guitar and understated bass and drums in the half-light of atmospheres that are neither dark nor bright in "Writing Letters" or "Once And For All."
Tempos change ever so slightly from song to song on Peace Is Burning Like A River, and it's only after a number of listens that they become noticeable. Slowing to a lovely, Americana-tinged crawl is "Oxbow Lake Syndrome," while the Middle Eastern-flavored, subdued, garage-rock howl of "Lion Has His Pride" picks up the pace just enough to snap you out of whatever reverie Bitter Bitter Weeks has you in.
Not content with writing songs that are only pretty on the surface, there is substance to Peace Is Burning Like A River, even if it does seem like all the songs sort of blend together after awhile. The taste it leaves is anything but bitter.