Just when it was threatening to reach long-awaited status, Harpswell Sound have released the follow-up to 2004’s full-length debut, Skylight, and its timing is perfect for the lazy heat and humidity that awaits us. Let’s Go Anyway is an album awash in warm embracing guitars, mid-afternoon sleepy vocals, and sentiments perfect for that nine o’clock dusk where everything is possible and nothing really matters.
It is also the album every Harpswell fan should have been hoping for, showing a clear step forward in arrangement, confidence, and maturity, but abandoning none of the poetic songwriting or guitar-based alt-country sound that made them worth following in the first place. Where Wilco have taken alt-country into realms alternatingly electronica and piano ditty, and the Jayhawks get so poppy they threaten to become the Kingston Trio, Harpswell Sound have captured that alt-country soul, full of rockabilly and Hank Williams and pedal steel, and combined it with an indie rock winsomeness that’s really hard not to fall in love with.
For this album, Harpswell Sound have been helped along by mixer/masterer Kramer, one-time head of Shimmy Disc Records, which released discs by progressive rock heroes King Missile and the academic metalheads GWAR. He was also the bassist for Ween and the Butthole Surfers for a while. Lately, he’s turned his talents back to mastering, where Kramer feels the industry has been let down by certain high-profile masterers (he doesn’t name names), who depend too heavily on compression and making every level come back to the norm.
Thus, Kramer has let fly on Let’s Go Anyway with every bright guitar shimmer and thrilling half-wail uttered by lead vocalist (most of the time) Trey Hughes. His mix is spot-on, too, letting the vocals come to the fore, supported by layers of guitars and organ that provide a foundation you could sink in permafrost.
Often, the songs build from the barest of sounds, like the wonderful “Tankful of Gas,” which opens with a solo guitar piece, joined after a verse by the bass and Mike Dank’s always crisp drums, and then echoed an octave higher by a second guitar. Like many of the songs here, it’s a yearning tune about everyday losses and struggles: “Days like this get filled up so quick/With food, fun, admissions, errands, and lists.” This leads into the first chilling chorus, built for teary-eyed singalongs by high-school sweethearts heading off to different colleges in the cars daddy bought them. “I miss you now,” Hughes agonizes, “I knew that I would/And I know sometimes missin’ you’s good.” He draws the words out so that the spaces can be filled by a melancholy organ wash, a perfect stand-in for that missing love: “You’re the space between words, when words go slow.” Then the song finishes with a guitar break that impresses with its subtlety, just slightly fuzzed out, rough around the edges like the light coming in the window in the morning after a bit of a bender.