The Long Shadows’ “Valor”

“Valor is quite an undertaking to get through, though it only clocks in at around forty minutes.” -Grafton Tanner

Grafton Tanner

out of 10

The Long Shadows
January 12, 2012

I came across a cute article the other day about how rock music is becoming the new jazz. As if jazz and rock can be compartmentalized into such things. It was one of those hastily thrown-together pieces in which a writer finds such comparisons between two enormous entities and then generalizes until the cows come home. I find it about as appalling as saying books are the new LP’s or some crackpot comparison like that.

Rock and punk have entered into interesting (and, I argue, exciting) positions as of now, and they are both riding the throwback wagon. Cloud Nothings have released a stellar sophomore album rife with the best of what the 90’s had to offer and some of the punkiest, noisiest, freeform pedal fests since Blur. Speaking of Blur, they’ve wiped off the dust and are back in the public eye. And then we have The Long Shadows, who have taken a cue or two from that splendid decade. There’s something in the PBR because mid-90’s pop rock is popping up in surprising places.

But Valor isn’t a nice rock paean to the 90’s. It’s 90’s pudding. The album is more of a popular rock graveyard and less of a defined, unified concept that points to something tangibly “rock.” A handful of tracks have the digestibility of post-grunge and the rest fall somewhere between folky punk and the Handsome Family. If that sounds dichotomous, well, it is.

The Long Shadows’ Bandcamp page gives possible insight into why this album is thinly spread. “It has been three years in the making (drama), but now it’s finally here,” reads the disclaimer under the track listing “And shit yeah its cool, and shouldn’t it be?” It should be, but three years working on a record with an extensive catalogue of engineers jeopardizes any sense of unity. An album should be a snapshot of a band’s yearlong or months-long work; Valor sounds like that photo album you haven’t looked at in years.

Look, the last thing anyone needs is some album purist dissing a work for its willy-nilly production style. Fact is, the songwriting here troubles me the most (Scout’s honor). For the most part, songwriting credit goes to both Will Raines and Montanus Trammell. Trammell’s voice and lyrics pop up the most, and his drawling, folk punk-meets-DMB vocal style is definitely not for everyone. He makes it interesting at least, switching from a deep lowing to a fast-paced, Isaac Brock ramble. Meanwhile, Raines has perfected the Seth Avett cry, but his songs differ wildly from the meat of the album. It’s a shame because they are listenable and tight in ways that Trammell’s are not. They also serve as mini-sketches to bring the listener back to life right when Trammell’s voice becomes too grating.

Valor is quite an undertaking to get through, though it only clocks in at around forty minutes. As a bunch of songs put side by side, I’m sure we can find something to tap toes to. Maybe a song to listen to after a breakup, riding around with the windows down yelling as loud as possible. But for a debut album with fourteen tracks, it’s not the kind of thing to explore.