Alex Bleeker and the Freaks - Country Agenda
I have plenty of love for the dreamy, folk-tinged "bourgeois-pop" that Martin Courtney and Matt Mondanile crank out at a robotically consistent rate when they're not working on new Real Estate material, but I do find it a shame that the sideline venture of the band's bassist, Alex Bleeker, is often overlooked by fans. Rather than searching for influence in the twinkling lead-guitar constellations of Pavement's Terror Twilight or the cigarette-stained mustiness of 70's soft rock records, Bleeker's quintet of Freaks seek to reclaim the sound of The Grateful Dead's American Beauty, seasoning the mix with just enough airy shimmer to satiate jangle pop die-hards. Their latest output, Country Agenda, is an act of careful sonic surgery that extracts the "jam band-iness" from the jam bands of yore, transplanting them into the instantly-recognizable, reverby songcraft of Captured Tracks affiliates like Mac Demarco and Wild Nothing.
The Freaks are at the top of their game on "Portrait", a cavernous cut that seems to effortlessly form an all-consuming atmosphere of post-rainstorm summer mugginess - peals of slide guitar and splashes of jazzy keyboard drip like condensation down the edge of an unobtrusive rhythm section that provides just enough space for the sneakily pretty vocal harmonies that surface in the tune's infectious chorus, but it's outliers like the bluesy "Honey I Don't Know" and "Turtle Dove", a gospel groove that provides the record some goofy anti-gravitas, that make this record such a joy to re-visit again and again. I wouldn't consider myself a Dead Head by any stretch of the imagination, but to detect their influence incorporated into an indie rock record without a speck of irony is quite refreshing, especially at the tail end of a year teeming with post-modern pop pastiches. Country Agenda is the late evening cooldown after months of gorging myself on the futurist pop of A.G. Cook and Le1f - it's beautifully sincere.