December 13, 2012

Review: Ted Billings | American Bedrooms

It's safe to assume that no one is more relieved by the release of American Bedrooms than Ted Billings himself. Not only is the amazing and potent new collection being issued little more than a year after the most recent long-player from Mr. Billings' mothballed rock outfit (this is no small victory, as Age Rings' Black Honey -- one of Clicky Clicky's favorite records of 2011 -- somewhat infamously took four years to complete). But also the release of American Bedrooms likely serves at least in some small part as an exorcism of the feelings related to the events described therein. Most everyone has a story about where they were when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred; Mr. Billings' American Bedrooms jumps off from that horrific day ("I was starting school when the planes hit," he sings in the opener "Freedom") to explore the songwriter's struggle toward peace of mind in the decade that followed.

While a substantial part of the ambitious, Townshendian narrative is fiction -- particularly the record's climax, "Rotten World" -- it's pretty heavy. Still, it doesn't weigh down the proceedings in the least: American Bedrooms is first and foremost a great rock and roll record whose eight anthemic songs comprise a concise psychodrama punctuated by brilliant, punchy power-pop. Perhaps because of its relatively short gestation period, perhaps not, American Bedrooms is a leaner, more lucid set of tunes than those on Black Honey. Where the prior record was rife with tunes marked by the surrealism of fever dreams, American Bedrooms feels refreshingly straightforward, almost literal. Musically, the record rides high on an undercurrent of vital punk mania; fuzzed guitars rule the day. The set's narrative arc spans both a slow-boiling, post-millennial confusion and disillusionment and a dark twist on conventional salvation (love, here not quite requited and complicated by a hostage situation...) that culminates in the dark ballad that closes the record.

The aforementioned "Freedom" is a tight, buoyant composition commencing with a choppy guitar riff touting Telekinesis-styled fuzz. The fuzz deepens and seeps into the vocal on "House On Fire," a tune that broadens the scope of the record to implicate the collapse of the domestic housing market ("I live in a house on fire, a foreclosure the price was right, we all choose how we're gonna die..."). The guitar part in the title track's verse echoes a bit of Bryan Adams' "Run To You." Thumping, relentless quarter notes from the drum kit anchor the slithering six-string part, but pointedly evaporate at the spine-tingling first chorus, which is ushered in over a solemn, ecclesiastical organ lick. The beat returns, as does the narrator's simple prayer for a facsimile of the American dream ("...all I want to do is to share an American bedroom with you..."). The narrator's misguided hopes of ameliorating his disillusionment and frustration via a romantic conquest, well, that doesn't go as planned ("... I thought you'd learn..."), but it certainly makes for a beautiful finale for American Bedrooms; the stunned admission "didn't see that coming" in "Rotten World" -- delivered amid a pretty cascade of synths -- is terrifically poignant.

Billings self-releases American Bedrooms digitally tomorrow; it is already available for streaming and purchase via the Bandcamp embed below. It is certainly among the best records released this year, although given its late entry it likely won't be recognized as such, sadly. The record will be feted tomorrow evening at The Middle East Rock Club in Cambridge with a record release show featuring a stellar bill. Not only will Mr. Billings and band perform, but also Midriff Records' flagship act, Boston post-punk titans The Beatings, will play, as will the acclaimed Dear Leader and Marconi.

Ted Billings: Internet | Facebook | Bandcamp

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