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The Zincs - Dimmer

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Artist: The Zincs

Album: Dimmer

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Jun. 21, 2005

Jim Elkington, sometime member of marginally notable British bands Sophia and Elevate, wound up in Chicago some years back and started recording songs about romance and displacement and romantic displacement. The titles of his recorded output so far as The Zincs – a full-length called Moth and Marriage on the sadly defunct Ohio Gold label, and an EP, Forty Winks with the Zincs, on Thrill Jockey – conjure images of somber sentiments in sleepy tones on dry Victorian nights, and as it happens this is pretty much what Elkington and his occasional bandmates are about.

Dimmer, Elkington's second full-length, this time augmented by a solid cast of fellow Zincs and auxiliary players, follows in the shuffling footsteps of its predecessors, both musically and metaphorically. There's a lushness to most songs that lends the record more range than, say, an on/off switch, although the two primary settings here seem to be cottony melancholy and pastoral, faintly sinister uptempo. The former category is where Elkington's low disapproving drawl shines as a real strength, but the makeup of songs like "Passengers" and "New Thought" is rather bland; the livelier numbers, like "Moment Is Now!" and the Pernice Bros.-like "Beautiful Lawyers" are more memorable but somehow less believable. Only in a few places are sentiment, execution, and delivery matched really well, and though those places sound remarkably similar – "Breathe In the Disease" and "Stay In Your Homes" are all but indistinguishable for the first minute – they communicate Elkington's dignified smirk more successfully than the rest of the album.

In part, the problem is that the songs on Dimmer sound like they should carry an earnestness that's simply not there; whether because Elkington sounds too bored or because his melodies are too conventional, the tone of most of it is stranded somewhere between darkish country balladry and liquored-up dry wit. A somewhat mischievous string section (including badass cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm) gets it right in the better songs, and some of the time Elkington does too – the refrain "Don't make me laugh" right before a terrible guitar solo in "Stay In Your Homes," for instance, or the whole of the sublimely gentle "Sunday Night." But Dimmer is not a resounding success in light or in dark, and, a few promising moments aside, most of it hardly resounds at all.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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