This local debut puts its best foot forward on the first track. An acoustic guitar strums through the instrumental soundscape along with a winding and ethereal violin. This combination is found again and again throughout the album, so this first track serves as an appropriate opening curtain. A wide variety of other instruments are used throughout the record, from organ to banjo to Theremin to trombone, but the prevailing sound is this effective guitar and violin combination.
After the minute-long intro track, “Blessed Love” begins, setting the mood for James Rude’s voice and lyrics. One of the most immediately recognizable contrasts on this album is the way Rude’s voice is mixed in relation to the sounds it sits between. While many of the instruments float in and out with smooth strokes and grand intensity, Rude’s voice seems to lie in a space that is altogether drier and sometimes distant.
The early songs on the album set the listener up for an inventive, folk-style record which, aside from a few unexpected breaks in dynamic intensity, follows the pattern it establishes with fair consistency until the fifth track. As a departure, “Kite” is an edgier rock tune featuring electric guitar and more pronounced rhythm. It undergoes several transformations before relenting to a quieter finish. This more experimental trend weaves its way into the rest of Never Better Than Later on other tracks like the psychedelic “Pilot’s Log” or the tail end of “West Divide” and the effect-heavy closer, “Dialogue Revervision.”
Standouts like “People in Boats” mix the lush acoustic textures of the prevalent sound with the dirtier blues sounds of the rest of the record. Other tracks such as “Treble is 6 sometimes 7” begin with softer textures and evolve to accommodate increasingly percussive action and broader orchestration. That track catches the listener off guard by ceasing all rhythm abruptly to close the song with bright and unexpected organ.
As a complete work, Never Better Than Later follows a similar transformation, sweeping from the soft and lush acoustics to rough and tumble experimentation, undergoing the process with fascinating results. A CD release party for the album is being held downtown at Calhoun Street’s Tiger Room (in Soups, Salads and Spirits) on Friday, June 19. In addition to a performance by Rude, local acts Streetlamps for Spotlights, Sparkleteaser and Megan King will attend and play. (C.Ray Harvey)
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