Trouble Books: The United Colors of Trouble Books
Own Records

Recorded using an old cassette 7-track (one of the original eight broken) plus laptop, Trouble Books' The United Colors of Trouble Books sometimes sounds about as lo-fi as one might expect. That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, as the Akron, Ohio-based group—Keith Freund, Linda Lejsovka, Mike Tolan, and a smattering of friends and neighbours—makes the most of such limitations and, more often than not, transcends them on this thirty-minute mini-album, the band's fourth. Occupying an unusual middle ground between vocal-based folk of the Sufjan Stevens variety and laptop-generated experimental collages, the ten fractured mini-symphonies are quirky and unpredictable creatures indeed. Laconic singing, violin, accordion, guitar, woodwinds, horns, and other acoustic sounds collide with field recordings and electronic processing in Trouble Books' meandering set-pieces, and the band brings as much imagination to its lyrics as it does its music by peppering the songs with images of street sweepers, hardcore punk bands, and Laika-like space dogs.

Any seeming hindrance modest production resources might impose is quickly dispelled when “Beautiful Thoughts from Spanish and German Soldiers” packs the crackle of an outdoor fire, woodsy clarinets, phase-shifting electronic treatments, strings, drum-beats, and vocals into two minutes. At the opposite end, a gun, a giraffe, fireworks, and wind-blown hair somehow manage to squeeze themselves into the brief coda “Personal Tornados.” Fragile vocals float over a smoldering drone during “Strelka,” while the bedroom ambiance of songs like “Shaky Science” makes it seem as if someone rolled tape after persuading a dinner guest to add violin or French horn to a work-in-progress. There's also an occasional instrumental, such as “On and On Submerged Ark” where sputtering electronic noises criss-cross with elegant guitar figures and softly surging ambient streams, and the material isn't always well-behaved either, as the snarling guitar feedback rippling through “For All Our Dead Friends” makes clear. It would be overstating it to suggest that “I can't explain why, but it feels like heaven to me” (a line that appears in “Personal Tornados”) accurately characterizes the impression left by The United Colors of Trouble Books but it is at the very least an arresting polyglot of styles.

April 2009