Review Summary: On their third studio release, the Good Old War opt to walk straight down the middle, completely obscuring themselves in the process.
It has become increasingly possible to posit that the term “indie music” has completely lost its meaning in this day and age. Originally used to describe independence from major commercial record labels, or an autonomous, tape-recorder-in-the-bedroom approach to both recording and publishing, the term has gradually become used to identify acts that retained an outsider approach to mainstream music charts and the artists that made up the mercury of those very barometers of fame. No one knows exactly when it happened, but thanks to such gross over-generalization, bands that were previously only dimly aware of each other’s presence suddenly found themselves irrevocably linked overnight into a sort of pseudo-cultural lifestream, whose very existence was based on a vague ethos of what non-conformity was supposed to sound like.
With all that considered, I guess it isn’t altogether surprising that I find myself utterly confused by the Good Old War and their latest studio release, the sufficiently indie-titled Come Back as Rain
. Consisting of native Pennsylvanians Keith Goodwin, Tim Arnold, and Dan Schwartz (or “Good”, “Old”, and “War”; yes, I slapped my forehead too), the band’s brief cuts of folksy backing music tends to lean towards the sensitive and the melancholy, with most pieces being borne along by a warm swash of delicate vocal harmonies. While all this is, frankly, rather rudimentary in approach – especially when compared to the brand of folk choir that the Fleet Foxes have perfected in recent times – it retains sufficient angularity and warmth to warrant some attention. Even from an elitist “indie” perspective, that seems a pretty legit sales pitch.
Which is why it's such a shame that the band’s lyrics actually seem much more suited for a modern day The Click Five or Britney Spears single, as opposed to being from a genre that, at its most rudimentary definition, is supposed to be the exact antithesis of such music. “High up in the trees, you made a nest for me/We made loud love above the canopy
,” sings drummer Tim Arnold on the album’s penultimate song. It’s the kind of wayward sentiment that makes one desperately hope that he’s actually singing about performing a spot of avian impersonation, as opposed to being in the midst of elocuting some bizarre, back-to-basics sexual fantasy of his. Elsewhere, bandmate Keith Goodwin croons, “Everyone seems to wonder why/I go back to you every time/But I don’t mind/Cause you have amazing eyes
”, with that last adjective being stretched out for all it’s worth. The end result is a song that comes off more like an experiment to gauge the minimum amount of effort needed in lyric-writing to make listeners halt their suspension of disbelief, as opposed to a shameless, no-holds barred folksy paean to beauty (those do exist).
As a result, even though their latest set of tunes are halfway decent for the most part, too often Good Old War come across like a parody of themselves, which, unless completely intentional, is about the worst thing that can happen to any performing artist. Accordingly, Come Back as Rain
works best when framed as a Polaroid of a mid-career band with the misfortune to be captured at a moment in which they find themselves with absolutely nothing to say – nothing worth paying attention to at any rate, unless you can find some higher meaning in an inherently contradictory line like, “It was not quite happiness/Just love, just love, just love
.” Yet the strangest sensation of all that listening to this release brings is the realization that these three blokes might have been able to pull all this off if they hadn’t been a band with a set of acoustic instruments, but instead a heavily done-up power pop outfit equipped with a sackful of good looks, a couple decent synth samples, and a hefty amount of AutoTune.