And the Wicked Sea CD - Pictures of Then

On their sophomore album, And the Wicked Sea, Minneapolis, Minnesota, alt-rock quintet Pictures of Then update the Midwest college rock kick-started by fellow Twin Cities forebears Husker Du and The Replacements, with a similar lack of embellishment and no-nonsense utility. While those two bands reveled in punk influences, Pictures of Then reveal Brit rock, seventies roots music, and classic pop inspirations. The upbeat, biting "When It Stings" and the rumbling young romance remembrance "History of Bones" have an encouraging streak of indie rock independence. But these guys never adhere to one genre: take "Nowhere Is Somewhere," where guitarist Joe Gamble and vocalist Casey Call bring Brit rock refinement to the fore, or pop piece "One Day," which slaps on some soulful, new wave decor. Big Star-esque "Ahead" dips its toes into the stream of mediocrity, but navigates away from flimsy weightlessness via Call's guileless tenor voice and plainspoken hopes for a favorable future. Likewise, the Billy Joel-ish rock/pop cut "7th Street" strikes a balance between workmanlike sentimentality and working class sensibility. Meanwhile, the rural-inclined "Stuck" and "Questions Anyone?" both stretch into Bright Eyes territory, although Call cannot match Conor Oberst's lyrical perceptions. A marked scarcity of self-indulgence, authoritative guitars, lots of top-down rhythms, and sharp melodies give And the Wicked Sea a satisfying sense of conceit-free achievement.

By Doug Simpson



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