BACK AGAIN: Spouse.
Life obviously isn’t fair. The latest proof is that Jose Ayerve still hasn’t been properly celebrated as a major force in American indie songwriting, but a Charlie Sheen/Jon Cryer vehicle is now the most popular comedy on television.
This particular example of unfairness comes to mind with the news of Relocation Tactics, a new release from Spouse, the geographically scattered “band” Ayerve started fronting at Bowdoin College some 10 years ago. And Spouse always calls to mind the indie pop made by New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Psychedelic Furs to support Jon Cryer’s first career as an ironic teen icon. I predicted with some hope in the review of 2004’s Are You Gonna Kiss or Wave Goodbye that Two and a Half Men (a show I insist should at least be titled Two Men and a Half) would be cancelled before Spouse’s next album release.
I am woefully disappointed in CBS’s continually insipid play to the heartland, but couldn’t be happier with Spouse’s new effort. It delivers all of the winsome guitar hooks, biting love songs, and studio wizardry we’ve come to expect, but, as always, the multiple recording locations and band line-ups lend a new in-the-moment aesthetic to the band’s fourth full-length release. The disparate recording venues and circumstances, the multiple layers of tracks and instruments, make for a deep and textured album that has a lot to listen for. It’s maybe best as a singalong disc for the car stereo, but it’s not bad in the headphones either.
While the band’s indie-pop roots are still to the front, this album is harder than the previous three — 2002’s Love Can’t Save This Love and 2000’s Nozomi are the first two, both highly recommended — and a little bit rootsier, featuring a great ode to Springsteen in the finish to “Delta” and a lovely glockenspiel melody from Mike Merenda on “Boyfriend in Training.” Both, too, put Ayerve’s romantic heart on display. “Love only happens when you’re blinded,” he argues on the former; “You can I can make up now,” he breathes in the latter, “It’s what I’m trained to do.”
“Boyfriend” only clocks in at 1:58, and, while refreshing in an era of long-winded pop songs Spouse completely avoids, its brevity is a crime. Spouse employ eight instruments here to effect a song one might refer to as stripped down, full of solo guitar strumming in sleepy, seductive pacing. One of the band’s great talents is being incredibly precise with its production while remaining fresh and sort of jangledy.
Ayerve also has a talent for recruiting talent, and the talents of Erin McKeown are hard to miss as an important new element on Tactics. Her pure and resonating mezzo-soprano punctuates the bouncy pop of “It=Love,” which is like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, though maybe more mature. Especially in the coda, she’s sublime in her backing vocals of the taunting “never gonna get it back.” She’s even better with a co-lead turn later on the disc in the Sufjan-esque “There Goes the Road.”