Album Reviews

Absentee – Donkey Stock

(Memphis Industries) UK release date: 4 July 2005

Absentee lost their bass player to meeja darlings The Magic Numbers, and labelmates The Go! Team have been winning plaudits wherever they go, but laconic baritone Daniel Michaelson’s Absentee have ploughed on with the release of Donkey Stock.

And well they might. At less than 27 minutes this is more extended EP than album if truth be told, but for all its brevity Donkey Stock leaves an indelible impression on the listener.

Michaelson’s grouchy vocals recall Cousteau‘s Liam McKahey or The Divine Comedy‘s Neil Hannon in woozy and decidedly fed up frame of mind. Unlike these two, at no point does Michaelson launch into theatrical crescendos – the key mood here is melancholia, not drama.

Musically Absentee occupy a space in the same late-night, candlelit alcoholic Nashville stupor as Lambchop and Ray, but they fuse this pleasingly familiar sound with their very own methodology.

Opening number Rainy Days Swimming unleashes harmonica, slide guitar and shamblingly hushed drums under Michaelson’s lyrics about cooking pork and somebody he calls “my dear”. Bird-like female backing vocals add to the naturalistic aural mural.

Something To Bang brings forth the guitars and what sounds like a Hammond for an upwards push of the energy lever. Michaelson’s voice still dominates everything. It’s like a vintage red wine adding the finishing touch to a well-cooked, gamey meal. “I’m tired of being a man,” he grumbles – but with a voice like his, he has no right to be.

My Dead Wife rambles on from an original plea for “more time” into the most miserablist rendition of Olivia Newton John‘s Grease standard You’re The One That I Want you’ll ever hear. It’s fabulous.

While nods and winks to Kurt Wagner only get one so far, Absentee do them so well, and on the evidence of this mini album they have many more weapons in their arsenal besides.

After Donkey Stock, I’m left with one question. When’s the full-length LP out?

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Absentee – Schmotime
Absentee – Donkey Stock