Review Summary: If it makes you feel good...
How do you review a Red House Painters album? Well, you shouldn't. Yet here I am, struggling to describe the album in plain words. But I do know Kozelek and his crew have a knack for packaging honest emotion in their tunes. This isn't your gooey, lovey-dovey emotion either - it's pure, unadulterated musical emotion, free from the common stereotypes and methods that many artists use when creating an affecting album. Even with the most painful song on Red House Painters II
, there is always a vestige of tranquility. Delightful phrases are in abundance as per usual - tracks such as "Bubble", "Uncle Joe", and "New Jersey" retain the delectable RHP riffage. While collecting the remaining songs from the sessions that produced Red House Painters I
, this third LP from the group is no less loving.
The cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "I Am A Rock" and the closer, "Star Spangled Banner", seem to be the only tracks keeping this album from shining as one of RHP's greatest achievements. It must be noted, however, that Kozelek has always been somewhat sardonic and black in his humor. This shows with the inclusion of "Star Spangled Banner", as I have my doubts about the true nature of Kozelek's patriotic spirit. At any rate, the downbeat mutated version of this well-known anthem still plays off nicely. While the more acoustic "New Jersey" appears on their previous album, a reworking of the song rocks on Red House Painters II
. This electric-guitar driven number is one of the more pop-oriented tracks. Koutsos' subdued drumming keeps the tempo throughout, with pleasing fills here and there.
Slow, droning songs always find their way in with RHP, evident on the ambiguous "Helicopter". The chords seem to hold the listener in suspension, and I'm still not sure how the song was intended to make me feel. Others possess a clear sense of melancholia: "Uncle Joe" is an RHP masterpiece. "Where have all the people gone?" Kozelek cries out in the first verse, immediately joined by strumming acoustics, a somewhat overblown bass, and a devilishly tasteful guitar line. "Blindfold" is a real treat for any RHP fan 'cause it's the only time we'll ever hear Kozelek force a gut-wrenching scream. The evolution of the song itself is something to marvel at: it begins with the sluggish drone only to change tempo halfway through, accompanied by a riff to end all riffs. The song morphs even further in mood, ending with the infamous Kozelek shriek. If you don't listen to this album, at least listen to "Blindfold".
The cons? A few, but they are extremely minor complaints: I can't help but to feel that Kozelek's vocals are a bit underwhelming on a few tracks (particularly "I Am A Rock"). And at the end of the day, Red House Painters II
is a collection of tracks not included on their previous release - but that doesn't make them any less powerful. It does affect the album as a whole though, as I often find myself digesting the album in pieces rather than giving the whole thing a listen.
Regardless, Red House Painters II
is a killer album. Quirkiness (those eerie voices at the end of "Evil"), melancholia ("Bubble" and "Uncle Joe", among others), ambiance (slightly attributed to Vessel's sustained method of playing the bass), and first-rate songwriting combine to make an album that every fan of RHP should lend an ear. All in all, Red House Painters II
demonstrates the even an album of b-sides can have the quality of a regular RHP release. Truly an overlooked gem.