Lay the Hip
(Plastique Recording Co.)
That Trunk Federation even managed to get together and put out a third album after a year of dissolution, defections and personal problems is amazing enough. That Lay the Hip turns out to be their best effort to date is nothing short of head-spinning. With half the album recorded before the group's premature hiatus/breakup and the other half recorded after last summer's happy reunion, you would expect this to be a much more schizo-transitional affair. In some ways it is, with several tracks ("A King Is Bored," "Thin Turns Blue," "Hey Suitcase") sounding like a direct continuation of 1998's The Curse of Miss Kitty, while others branch out into unexplored territory.
Trunk always had a pronounced pop streak, but it's never been so chipper as on "The Luxury of Fables" or the lush "Happy Home," where you can close your eyes and imagine '70s West Coasters America during their George Martin-produced period. It's as if the sonic malevolence that hung over the first two albums like a vampire's fangs has been supplanted by a spare and honest sound that perfectly complements the newer, more direct lyrical approach.
For the first time, leader Jim Andreas seems comfortable penning stark, personal lines instead of spitting out words that merely sound enigmatic. His vocals are also free of any distancing tricks, revealing further depths of humanity and vulnerability. The sensitive "Crossing Guard" would've been unthinkable on the last album, as would "Life on Crusade," where he sounds like he's making a groggy after-hours call to a help hot line. "Can you reach down and help me out/Give me some guarantees you'll stick around," he groans, with the band playing behind as quietly as possible.
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And yes, let's not forget the band. Chris Kennedy still provides double-kick drum bottom on a single-kick drum budget; Jason Sanford continues to find new and appealing ways of strangling his guitar; and if there's a keyboard out there built to sound like "Baby Elephant Walk" or an Oscar Meyer-wiener whistle, bassist/instrumentalist Bob Smith appears to have already uncovered it. With Smith spending most of his time in New York or on tour with A.J. Croce and Sanford calling Utah home, it remains to be seen at what capacity Trunk Federation will carry on as a working unit. As long as the foursome occasionally converge to make records as masterful as Lay the Hip, the rest will be icing on an already heady cake.