Gee, music's good these days. There was once a time, not so long ago, when the phrase, "Hey, you want to hear my demo?" was an entreaty on par with, "Hey, want to buy my extra ticket to the local dinner theater's version of Krapp's Last Tape?" In a word, no.
But now, in these halcyon days of '07, self-produced music often sounds better than the sludge pouring out of your local Top Forty station. Top Forty stations still exist, right? Anyway, you know what I'm talking about: those noisy little songs quoting from every marketable aspect of hip hop, disco, and R&B that end up sounding like something rejected from the Eurovision Song Contest circa 1987.
Well, The Inner Banks would probably be rejected from the Eurovision Song Contest too, but don't hold that against them. They're just not bombastic and crude enough, that's all. You would think that a band with thirteen credited members would have bombast to spare, but somehow they manage to keep pretty quiet -- and I mean that literally: pretty; quiet. Don't worry about some Polyphonic Spree event -- The Inner Banks are too tasteful for that.
Thirteen members? Well, I won't list them all here, but the instrumental lineup includes the usual guitar/bass/drum combo along with trumpet, vibraphone, cello, and -- hello -- a French horn. Honestly, as a recovered Junior High School band member, I never thought I'd say this, but the French Horn sounds pretty damn good here (as played by Amie Margoles). So, too, does the lap steel (Michael Gomez), but when does lap steel suck? Not hardly ever.
OK, fifth paragraph and I still haven't told you about their music. It is lovely and full, with a harmonic (not polyphonic!) swell to it that manages to be uplifting without merging into Christian Rock territory. Lead singer Caroline Schutz has a dreamy, pretty voice that could lead to some opportunities to sub in for Elizabeth Frazer, should the two dudes in the Cocteau Twins ever try to recreate the old band. The main difference is that you can actually understand Schutz's enunciations, which is nice.
I think this album would be the perfect accompaniment to a serious New Year's Resolution-making session. It's inspiring and makes you feel like many things are possible. On the other hand, it's so accomplished that you may feel inadequate, as in, "The Inner Banks put together this awesome album last year -- and what the hell have I been doing?" Still, better to listen to it and wonder than to never hear it at all.