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Central Falls - Love and Easy Living

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Artist: Central Falls

Album: Love and Easy Living

Label: Truckstop

Review date: Jul. 9, 2003

Beautiful, Not Pretty

Chicago, that windswept fount of music, has achieved something that its perennial competitor for cultural supremacy, New York City, can never touch. In rock circles, at least, no other city matches Chicago in terms of the depth of collaboration that exists between bands and their members. A visit to last year’s Thrill Jockey anniversary concert would have you convinced that about ten people in different combinations were responsible for the bulk of the label’s output. For whatever reason, Chicago is a place where artists end up on other people’s records all the time, and side-projects are as numerous as actual “real” bands. And, while it might seem a little absurd to find Jim O’Rourke’s or John McEntire’s name on every other album, it also speaks to a climate of creativity and unpretentiousness that has allowed Chicago to quietly become one of the most musically fertile places in the world.

Central Falls is the product of this philosophy, a band whose nucleus is formed by two brothers, Adam and Ben Vida, who are part of US Maple and Town and Country, respectively. As a “side project”, Central Falls is relatively unknown, and like most side-projects, could be considered a minor afterthought. However, this is not a four-track quickie, a record made while the members whiled away stoned nights. Rather, it’s a meticulously-arranged throwback to ’70s-era songwriting and production, recalling the unhurried, melodic explorations of the Band, Van Morrison, and Neil Young. And although Central Falls doesn’t sound much like any of these bands, it has absorbed a certain sense of their approach, which includes both a love of traditional structures and a need to dislocate themselves from these traditions. So you get lovingly arranged horns, codas that trail off into disjointed nothingness, and guitars that chime pleasantly before suddenly playing a wrong note.

This is unquestionably beautiful music, but it is almost never pretty. There is always something amiss: a fractured harmony, a guitar line that doesn’t go anywhere. All of this serves to enrich the songs, which could easily turn into indie easy listening in the wrong hands. The album follows its own personal, slightly twisted path, drawing you in with its alluring surfaces but ultimately refusing to disclose much or come to a final resolution. Much of the singing dissolves into harmony, which is lush but obscuring of the songs’ content. Is it a breakup album? Stream-of-consciousness meanderings? It seems to be both and neither, a heavily thought-out album that ultimately betrays no thoughts. Ultimately, though, it is these contradictions that welcome you back for another listen, another attempt to divulge something from the record’s shimmering, somewhat somber surface.

Despite its shifting tones and mood, however, there are still moments of pure, clear beauty on Love and Easy Living, such as the acoustic guitar and trumpet duet at the end of “Weekenders”. The song contains everything good about many of the bands in Chicago – disregard for genre; a patient, jazz-like approach; nuanced production. It’s a spacious, gorgeous moment, unhurried and completely confident. Central Falls’ album contains many moments like these, near-sublime instances of instrumental interplay that cause you to simply sit and listen for a moment. If nothing else, perhaps the incessant collaboration in Chicago helps to encourage a fresh approach, maintaining the city’s reputation for musical innovation.

By Jason Dungan

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