Thursday, May 10, 2007

Chicago F'in Rocks: The Autumn Defense - The Autumn Defense

Download: The Autumn Defense - "Estate Remains"
Download: The Autumn Defense - "Feel You Now"
Download: The Autumn Defense - "I Knew It All Along"

The Autumn Defense
The Autumn Defense (Broadmoor, 2007)
Grade: B+

Even though this record came out back in January, which, in terms of the internet community, might as well be 1812, I figured that now would be a good time to revisit the Wilco side project, The Autumn Defense. After all, doesn't Wilco have some sort of big hubub having to do with next Tuesday?

As stated, The Autumn Defense is an offshoot of Wilco, with John Stirratt and Pat Sansone being the members of that band who are doing double-duty in the Defense. Their self-titled record is their third release for Broadmoor records, which is run by Stiratt and his sibling, Laurie.

Upon first listen, I had a Beavis-esque "What the hell is this crap!!?" moment because of the soft-rock flutes, acoustic guitar and lovey-dovey lyrics that greeted my ear in the form of "Canyon Arrow," the record's opening track. Even though the acoustic guitar initially helps to create a mysterious vibe almost reminescent of Pink Floyd (enhanced nicely with a glissando bassline from Stirratt), by the time that the flutes come in and the verses begin, we've seemingly entered 70s lite-rock territory and, for a little while, it seems as if there is no looking back.

But Stirratt and Sansone are too good musicians to let things stagnate like that, so they throw in some jazzy melodies and smart key changes. And that's what ultimately separates The Autumn Defense from other groups in the soft-rock universe. Though The Autumn Defense may sound trite and cliche at first, mulitiple listens revel that the musicianship on this record is impeccable and should not be entirely dismissed in a knee-jerk, "I can't listen to pretty music because Punk told me that doing so is bad," fashion.

Listening to The Autumn Defense made me release that, for better or worse, soft/lite-rock can more or less be pinned on The Beatles. The difference between the pap that I hear when I'm in the dentist's chair and The Autumn Defense lies in the arrangements. In soft-rock, the auxiliary instruments serve as a counterpoint to the initially quiet main melody but then, as the chorus creeps up, those instruments swell up, the melody becomes bombastic, and then everyone who isn't a fan of schmaltz rolls their eyes. I feel that, in essence, is a bastardization of The Beatles' best ballads (5 alliteration points, score!).

The Autumn Defense, however, never let the music swell up and that's what keeps the arrangements tasteful, interesting and resembling The Beatles at their best. But there are other stylistic points touched on - the Dylanesque organ in "Feel You Now," for instance. Ultimately, it's how the instruments interact that makes The Autumn Defense an pleasing listen. The lyrics may be a bit too lovey-dovey, but the musicianship is solid, and that's what really matters.

(Jonathan Graef)

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