Album Reviews

Absentee – Schmotime

(Memphis Industries) UK release date: 8 May 2006

Schmotime is a louche swaggering bear of an album full of tales of drunk love, the following hangovers and bleary regrets, albeit with a certain twinkle in their eye. Like the sweet sweepings from the floor of pub to bedroom, Absentee roll around in the filth like a one happy dog.

This is the debut full-length from Brit indie-country-rock quintet which follows up their 2005 Donkey Stock mini-album. Spinning folky tales of love gone sour, awkward sex, loss and elegant debauchery over a backdrop of steel guitar, keyboards, harmonica, sweet backing vocals and the occasional stab of distortion. And it sure sounds like fun.

More Troubles starts with a hymnly church-ish organ before it rasps into life, rubbing its stubble over an organ-led undercarriage that blooms into a sprightly barrel-rolling melody. All set to chiming guitars and uplifting horns, this.

“Darling you’re no oil painting, and I’m no Michaelangelo” seems like sound grounds enough for the smarts of We Should Never Have Children. A tale of two unsuitables regretfully realizing that their ugliness (both mental and physical) is reason enough not to procreate. “You wouldn’t know it but I used to be smart” could be ripped from the tongues of a million pub bullshitters and know-it-alls trying to chat up any bit of skirt or shirt with a tear in their beer.

The songs roll out easily, merging into an easy-going swagger of up-tempo country-rock with just a hint of distortion. Think the Tindersticks playing drinking/thinking games with Pavement and you’re close. Brimming with confidence and feel-good melodies, Absentee are no whinging proposition, but a joyous, fully-rounded group serving up smiles with shots.

The gentle acoustics of Hey Tramp, all glockenspiel and banjo seem to be beamed from another dimension of songwriting heaven. Melodies positively leap from tracks to hug your ears and nest in your head like old friends. Leading the encompassing spirit of bonhomie is the engaging rasp of singer Dan Michaelson, a charming world-weary thing that never grates or whinges with its gutterheart bruisings.

Like the best country songs, half the joy is in the anticipation of what titles like You Try Sober and Truth Is Stranger Than Fishin’ will sound like. Rarely do they disappoint, with wandering guitar lines and wry metaphors matched with instant melodies and acute observation couched in comfortable (and comforting) surroundings. If I was a pub dog, I’d want to be an Absentee pub dog.

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More on Absentee
Absentee – Victory Shorts
Absentee – Schmotime
Absentee – Donkey Stock