Portland, Oregon has a fine musical heritage, from natives like M Ward, The Gossip, The Dandy Warhols and the late Elliott Smith to more recent refugees like Modest Mouse, The Shins, Sleater-Kinney and Stephen Malkmus.
Musée Mécanique – taking their name from San Francisco’s museum of penny arcade games – can count themselves as part of the former, band lynchpins Micah Rabwin and Sean Oglivie calling the city home and doing their darndest to add to its rich aural tapestry.
Their efforts have, to date, culminated in Hold This Ghost, an album that has seen the light of day since September 2008, though not (officially, at least) on these shores. Belatedly, the band are asking us to hold ghosts of our own. Is it worth the wait?
Finding their auditory touchstone in bands like Mercury Rev and Grandaddy, Musée Mécanique seek solace in melancholy, their solemn outpourings finding the form of gently picked acoustic guitar augmented with a hint – and just a hint it is – of harmonising, electronic chimes and melodies.
And it is this reigned in elegance that both animates and restrains the album: one man’s tempered poignancy is another’s background music; The Propellors, a track about the Wright Brothers’ maiden flight, is either exquisite musing or borrowed nostalgia, depending on interpretation.
What cannot be argued, however, is the quality with which Musée Mécanique pursue their chosen craft. The expert layering of solidly written, rangy folk songs – Sleeping In Our Clothes, particularly – affords track after track the richness and depth fitting of such an impassioned debut effort; if not moved, you’re at least admiring.
Yet there is a sense that Hold This Ghost lacks a true standout moment. For all of Like Home’s promise – sounding not unlike an organ-driven Jon Brion soundtrack piece – there is no great subsequent rousing, leaving the listener’s ear to yearn for an undelivered punchline: how this tracklisting could use a shot in the arm, like a Mercury Rev’s Dark Is Rising.
That no such chest-pounding is present is no great crime in itself, but the unchanging landscape places a burden on its constituent parts: Fits And Starts boasts the delights of alt-country melancholia, its crystal-clear strum and weeping slide guitar evoking all kinds of romantic imagery, and yet, sat as it as among similar siblings, you’d be hard pressed to recall its melody afterwards.
That said, if in this LP rewards you seek, then rewards you shall find: an interesting, provocative narrative raises its head throughout, offering repeat-listen plunder for the intelligent listener, and folk layer cake on offer is sure to reveal obscured intricacies for those sufficiently interested to return for more.
And so, while Musée Mécanique may bear all the trappings of smart, stimulating and at times stunning alt-folk, Hold This Ghost feels like a work in progress, its component parts a delight in and of themselves, but yearning to be developed further.