The Choir at Your Door’s “Work Tapes”

There are those records that require the listener to be in a certain place or in a certain mood to appreciate all the elements therein. Not so with The Choir at Your Door’s sophomore release, Work Tapes. The Choir at Your Door is really no choir, unless Aaron Roche and Nathan Phillips decide to grace their live audience with […]

Luke Goddard
The Choir at Your Door - Work Tapes

out of 10

The Choir at Your Door
Work Tapes
April 26, 2010

There are those records that require the listener to be in a certain place or in a certain mood to appreciate all the elements therein. Not so with The Choir at Your Door’s sophomore release, Work Tapes. The Choir at Your Door is really no choir, unless Aaron Roche and Nathan Phillips decide to grace their live audience with the presence of some of their equally as talented friends/bandmates. What you hear on The Choir at Your Door records, especially Work Tapes, is primarily the collaboration of Roche and Phillips. Perhaps you know Roche from his strong repertoire of solo singer/songwriter records. After all, such tunes as “Is it the People?” and “Jane” are not easy to forget. So, that’s one side. Then, you have the brilliant mind of Nathan Phillips chipping in and contributing his part. You probably remember all to well the short lived run of Phillips’ band, The Winston Jazz Routine. In the interviews that I’ve read of Phillips, it seems to me that he’s completely oblivious to the fact that The Winston Jazz Routine record, “Sospiri,” could have probably made him rich if he didn’t jump ship in the height of its impact. In fact, I remember feeling like a deflated balloon when Phillips decided to one day change the name from The Winston Jazz Routine to simply, Nathan Phillips. Not because I think the name, Nathan Phillips, sucks. More so, I thought the momentum he had with The Winston Jazz Routine and more importantly, the release of “Sospiri,” had what it takes to create major waves in the indie sea. And it did. Just didn’t last as long as I would’ve liked.

But then . . .

Phillips and Roche subtly decided to join forces to perhaps, in my mind, do the unthinkable. And that is to top Phillip’s “Sospiri” and Roche’s “Travel.”  Even better? All of this happened under one 8-track record. So now, here’s Work Tapes quietly but boldly making itself known to fans of Aaron Roche and The Winston Jazz Routine (err Nathan Phillips). And for the first time in months, this Blue Indian fella here was moved. I mean, park-my-car-on-the-side-of-the-road-on-my-way-home-from-work-moved.

The record begins with the opening track, “Intro,” which includes the classic Aaron Roche guitar-picking flavored with a beautiful arrangement of strings layered with the call of a horn blowing loudly over top as if its sole purpose is to get your attention. Like, “Hey, your ears are about to melt so get ready” sort of thing. Then suddenly, all is interrupted with the record’s single, “Sun Overhead.” It’s clear at this point that Phillips is on the keys doing his thing with the backing of Roche’s creamy vocals and professional ear. The track is driven by the simplest beat, but oddly, it has to be there. “All of the Things We Already Know” is clearly all Roche with a touch of Sam Beam-ish sounding melodies. If you’re an Aaron Roche fan though, you hear this track and smile because you’re genuinely thankful that it made the record. Intricate and true folk-style guitar picking sitting comfortably under Roche’s flawless harmonies, as heard in “All of the Things…” sets the tone for the rest of the record, which unfortunately is only 5 more tracks. “Kazoo,” coming in neatly after “All of the Things,” opens with this rich falsetto hum that closely resembles Jón Þór Birgisson of Sigur Rós but softly merges into the easily recognizable sighing-exhale of Phillips’ vocals as he sings, “When the fire came / Over the mountain / to take us.”

Highlighting my favorite tracks and without obligation to touch on each track, I jump over a track here and land in the “Narrow Window,” the track that made me pull my car over on the side of the road. Oh my God. Roche’s characteristically obscure lyrics touched my soul. His lyrics, always so unconventional in nature, made me tilt my head to the side and squint my eyes totally perplexed by the first line: “I can screw my face up and tell you the future.” Then after a few soft strums of his acoustic guitar, Roche reasons, “Because I have seen the efforts and greatness of man.” Time-out. So, I’m driving my car down Russell Parkway minutes after I left work when this next line put me in this unable-to-drive trance: “Oh no here I go again / Trying to make you understand me.” Roche has the listener totally locked in here. We can relate. Nevermind the amazingly tasteful piano riff behind the melody, Roche, the poet, is able to take you on a journey in your mind leaving you completely fine with the fact that you probably have no idea what he’s talking about in the song. Certainly universal in content, it’s utterly astounding how Roche’s lyrical ability coupled with unmatchable guitar skills, will allow for 10 different interpretations of song if assigned to 10 different listeners. It’s that good. It’s art at its best. So, at this point, I’m totally out and finally I come back to life during the beginning of the last track– the most powerful point of the record. It comes at exactly 40 seconds into “Sundown Riverside” when it seemed as if Roche was reading my mind: “Hold your hand up / And wait for the words / As you stand to speak.” It was almost as if Roche knew I would be paralyzed in thought after hearing the record, so as a pat on the back, he tells me to wait patiently for the right words. And so I did. I obeyed the voice in my head that told me to take my time with this record. It’s that good. I’ve never had a record tell me how to review it. Weird stuff.

My only critical statement about the record: It’s too short. I’m not saying that to flatter the artist. I honestly think they missed the boat in terms of length. The record would have benefitted from being about 20 minutes longer.
It’s like going to that highly-regarded crack-in-the-wall restaurant hidden behind a building in an alley that has the best steak in town, but when they finally bring your plate out, it’s the size of a flattened golf ball. The flavor of the steak is so intense that your mouth is high-fiving you as you chew, but when you finally swallow and realize that first bite ended up being your only bite because of it’s incredibly small size, you’re irritated and wanting more. I equate it to any short-lived euphoria. Maybe these guys are just into that kind of thing. I mean The Winston Jazz thing didn’t last long and Lord knows indie music fans went balltastic over “Sospiri.” Who knows, man. One thing for sure, if these two fellas make Work Tapes their last CAYD record, I’m going to lose my mind.

After I pulled my car back onto the road, I raced home and listened to the record again. And again. Oh and as I slap this last sentence down, I’m listening to it, again.

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