Album Review: Perhapst – Perhapst (In Music We Trust Records)

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MP3: Perhapst – Aren’t You Glowing

Around this time every year, melancholy pop albums seem to find their home in my possession. I don’t think it could happen any other way. Any other time of the year is inappropriate. Summer is too sweaty and fun, spring too lively, and autumn too filled with new experiences. During the end of December and the beginning of January my level of cynicism is at an all time high. I watch all the cars rush to department stores to buy gifts for holidays I’m not sure are even necessary, and I enjoy my own loathing.

Every year this happens, just as every year an album like Perhapst falls into my hands.

Last year my specimen was Me First by The Elected, and I can’t help but associate this year’s model, Perhapst’s self titled debut, with it. Let’s look at this more specifically. First of all, both albums are side-projects of well-established bands. Where The Elected’s Blake Sennet and Jason Boesel hail from Rilo Kiley, Perhapst is comprised of Decemberists’ drummer John Moen. Both albums utilize relatively high-pitched vocals whose qualities conjure terms such as “tweed” and “west coast,” and both combine all the best parts of folk and pop into two solid indie records.

Furthermore, while both of the albums are more than acceptable, neither have a definitive single in them. While Perhapst may contain “Caution” and The Elected have “Greetings In Braille”, it seems to me that these tracks are merely stronger than the others, neither necessarily the best track.

This, my friends, is the plight of folk-pop: the single.

Good songs are all too common, but it’s rare that we hear a folk-pop masterpiece. 2008, for example, yielded some brilliance from Fleet Foxes with “White Winter Hymnal”, but this reviewer is unaware of any other outstanding pieces of folk-pop art from this past year. Both Me First and Perhapst play well all the way through, but to be honest, I was never blown away with any one track enough to commit its title to memory.

So you may wonder, “What’s the difference between these two albums?”

Well for starters, Perhapst is a hell of a lot more fun than Me First. Despite being the perfect companion for this year’s bout of cynicism, the record is still a great time. “Caution” thumps along like the train full of hobos that we all wished we’d been on when we learned about the Great Depression (maybe we’ll get the chance with the economy going where it is). “Maryanne” sounds like a collaboration between the Decemberists and Rob Schneider. As an added bonus, John Moen doesn’t even use those sometimes-annoying whisper-like vocals that Blake Sennet insists upon. But if you think about it, those downbeat and flawed vocals are what give Me First it’s striking sincerity. So, while Perhapst is more joyful, it’s not nearly as much of a personal experience as Me First, which seems like a big part of folk, doesn’t it?

And that’s what we have to keep in mind; this is pop at its most basic level. Perhapst introduces nothing new, nothing groundbreaking. We’ve all heard these songs a million times over. On record label In Music We Trust’s website, they describe Perhapst as “experimental folk-rock.” I’m not completely sure I believe them.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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