Lovers Dreamers Fighters (independent)
In Lo Carmen’s world, you imagine all drinks are neat but held closely rather than wastefully skolled in a dramatic fashion. The lights are permanently semi-lit, not so much casting shadows as surprising with moments of soft brightness.
Men and women walk in here alone, and often enough leave alone. But for a few hours they think an alternative ending is possible, even if they suspect they’ll be back the next night.
It’s a world where Bonnie “Prince” Billy can be a light relief. No, really, when he turns up in Sometimes’ It’s Hard he brings almost a jauntiness to the song. And it is most definitely a place where pedal steel is the foundation stone of songs, wistful guitars the framework, and brushed drums and lugubrious bass the permeable walls.
We’re told these songs were written in “rural Georgia”, recorded in Nashville and “polished up in downtown LA”. If you haven’t twigged yet, yes it’s slowcore, country music for the woebegone and the wasted, and serenading them in a dry-cracked voice is Carmen, who has seen more than is strictly healthy.
It’s a particular world and Carmen and friends do get the style pretty well right. You Never Learned How To Dance feels just like that a-little-bit-too-drunk friend draped on you as you try to step-one-two on the tiny dancefloor. I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell is that person curled up in the booth at the back of the bar with a half-eaten olive on the table and half-open eyelids not really clocking you.
If Hold Your Lover Close comes with wise advice, its violin is a reminder that the wisdom was hard-earned. Soon enough the carefully stepping country soul of Put Another Record On, and its Sunday morning coming down - but dreams die harder – atmosphere, suggests even wise advice can go out the window when one more chance offers itself.
The mood, the setting, the ingredients are all here on Lovers Dreamers Fighters – a title that pretty much sums up the genre. Sometimes too much so, with the languid tone’s repetition eventually standing on the edge of somnolent, or, depending on your tolerance for this, tipping over into it. A few more slight changes of pace, not breaking out the happy pills but taking songs into territory you can’t always predict, would have improved things.
However, the biggest struggle is not so much the monochromatic palette as Carmen’s limited voice not being able to make those few colours striking. Mood is one thing but carrying us through a collection of this mood asks for more from the central instrument and with her quarter-speaking/half-reaching/quarter missing style, Carmen’s range is insufficient for the job.
Like a night in one of those bars these songs inhabit, you start out intrigued by the atmosphere and want to see out the album but as you near the end the temptation to leave grows stronger.