Album Review

Dolorean - You Can't Win

Dolorean - You Can't Win

Don't be fooled by the industrial thunk 'n' drone mantra of the title (and lead) track. Alex James can win, and mostly does -- but not by departing dramatically from the acoustic guitar and piano vignettes of 2004's remarkable Violence In The Snowy Fields. The intermittent Wilco-esque deformations are really just interludes. This is an ensemble record. As the leader of Dolorean, James recorded quickly in between tour dates in February 2006, letting his band -- including longtime rhythm section Ben Nugent and James Adair, pianist Jay Clarke and guitarist Emil Amos -- feel their way around his straightforward chord progressions and After the Gold Rush-like melodies. The songs murmur a quiet desolation; the band improvises around them elegantly, furtively. Amos is especially eloquent, as arithmetic as Neil Michael Hagerty and nearly as lyrical as Richard Thompson. The entire album has the uncluttered, gently released spirit of a late-hour jazz album, while still being recognizably song-based rock. James' tunes are self-consumed but not solipsistic. His dialogues engage dimly lit interlocutors: Heather who knows how the story ends, Buffalo Gal who can't stop flirting with fate, and Doubt with which he is in love above all else. The songs are more economical than James' previous work, and he makes the most of his dry, inquisitive whisper, letting lines of distance and longing -- "Your tonight is my yesterday," "Days grow short and pull apart and now the nights are long" -- drift lightly in a space full of warm, well-shaped sounds.