Review Summary: Nature and technology, indie and electronic, and a fine balance between the two.
I never knew Cars & Trains existed until the promo for The Roots, The Leaves showed up in my mailbox about a month ago. Another slew of demos, CD-Rs, well-written and some not-so-well-written press releases passed by, and poor Cars & Trains ended up either on the bottom of said pile... or in some dark crevasse of my loveseat. It honestly wasn't until I stumbled upon them again on one of my favorite blogs that I finally gave the record a long overdue fair shake. And well-deserved it was; mult-instrumentalist Tom Filepp's brainchild is, if anything, an unorthodox yet effective experiment in electronic-influenced indie music.
From a pure compositional perspective, The Roots, The Leaves impresses in its innate ability to come off as organic in every sense of the title. The multiple layers of melody, electronic as well as acoustic, come together harmoniously - almost as if electronic drums, banjo, glockenspiel, and viola were actually supposed to be regularly complementary. Filepp is an excellent songwriter if anything else; although his vocal tone may come off as brooding and monotonous at times, he never takes the emphasis off the rustic atmosphere and relaxed aura about the piece. The roots, the leaves indeed. And while it is definitely a successful melding of two seemingly opposing forces (nature and technology, acoustic instruments and electronic), an odd imbalance is nearly all-encapsulating here. Perhaps the choruses are too complex to be memorable, or he lyrically clashes with the intended atmosphere too much. Regardless, Cars & Trains are on the right track and need only channel this organic instrumentation with a bit more humanity next time around.