Not a big fan of Radiohead, I will still never forget the first time I heard the bass line for "Airbag". The Gingerbread Man…Indiana, PA….jukebox… "Spring Flight to the Land of Fire" has a one bar bass line consisting of two notes, but the moment Matt Flegal kicked into it I knew Glass Mountain Roads would not be modest. It has both muscle and teeth. On the other hand, the bass line for "Old and Early Numbers" proves that Flegal is accomplished (he probably has a fretless in his collection), but there is always a noticeable difference between complex musicians effectively choosing the simple approach, and the simple desperately clinging to their only possible avenue.
The observation of Flegal applies to The Cape May in its entirety. St. John is not digging deep into his thesaurus for vocabulary, but the images created by his lyrics are not standard. Whether someone's dead wife is "swimming in the mantelpiece" or a pattern in "the medicine hall is ugly brown, ugly white", St. John follows death into every corner it resides. At moments, Glass Mountain Roads is just plain depressing, but before it becomes too much, a moment like "we will leave the lights on" appears. The opportunity for return (or rescue) is wholly believable because St. John is extraordinary as a vocalist. He can be as beautifully brutal as his predecessors (June of 44, Shellac), but also evoke feeling melodically (think Andrew Bird) during songs like "Old & Early Numbers" and "Desert House".
It is difficult to be surprised by new music. Imitation is the preferred practice. The Cape May's promoters list Smog, Jeff Buckley, and Tom Waits as the artists closest to their band. The Cape May sounds more polished than Smog, more northern and urban than Jeff Buckley, and less weathered than Tom Waits. As a listener of all three, I barely see the resemblance with The Cape May (though I wouldn't be as bold as to say they're better) and that might be my greatest compliment. Glass Mountain Roads sounds like The Cape May, which is surprising and wonderful.
Tracks added to iPod: Spring Flight to the Land of Fire, Old & Early Numbers, Copper Tied, Mari, Still Island, Little & Hook, Desert House, A Butcher's Son
CD Info and Links
The Cape May - Glass Mountain Roads