The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Lop Off 2/3rds Of The New Cains & Abels Album For An Excellent EP

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 4, 2012 7:00PM


In the press notes for My Life Is Easy, the new full-length from moody troubadours in Chicago’s Cains & Abels, frontman David Sampson notes that, because of his strict religious background which forebode it, listening to rock music was an act of defiance, making music a sort of contraband.

“For a kid down the street, it wasn't rebellious at all, but for me, listening to the Beatles had the same charge that it would have in the 60s,” Sampson reportedly says. So why doesn’t that same charge show up until well into this latest release from Whistler Records?

If Sampson wants to ignite the same passion in listeners that music ignited in him, he has a funny way of showing it. It isn’t so much that My Life is Easy is bad - it isn’t -- so much as it’s the kind of alt-adult-contemporary (think along the lines of Grizzly Bear, Andrew Bird, Feist, etc.) music that inspires words like tasteful, thoughtful, well-arranged, and palatable, and not incredible, amazing, awe-inspiring, and life-changing.

Tempos are thoroughly mid, the vocals are tuneful, but delivered in an idiosyncratic style, and the playing is on the comfortable side of competent. It’s every indie rock record you’ve heard in the past ten years, executed with just enough talent to make it better than the average example of its kind, but not so much that listeners forget about more prominent examples out there for their consumption.

Perhaps these are unfair comparisons or false dynamics. After all, most listeners would - and should - settle for good. In which case, happily, My Life Is Easy rallies for its last four songs (of nine). It’s amazing how much of a difference a driving bass line, well-placed background vocals, and a snappy drumbeat make. “Money,” the album’s sixth track, features all of these things, plus a frenetic, noisy guitar solo at the end.

It’s the kind of album game-changer that makes a skeptical listener reassured that Sampson is a songwriting talent, and that also makes them wonder why he decided to bury the lede on said talent on this album in the first place. Same goes for “Roots,” which opens with an impressive deluge of Animal Collective-style soundscapes before settling into a formidable classic rock groove. (Just wait until those background harmonies hit. Someone get this into a heartbreaking montage, post-haste.)

“Where Did You Go?” is pleasant and agreeable in a way that recalls Neil Young’s most lonely-sounding work, and “Grow Me Home” starts off ho-hum before climaxing with memorable guitar interplay. If Sampson wanted to inspire the same passion in listeners that musicians inspired in him, he should have lopped off the first two-thirds and kept the last third as an excellent EP. As it is, My Life is Easy is thoroughly OK.

Cains & Abels play a record release show with Holcombe Waller and Thin Hyms on Thursday, April 5, at The Hideout, 9 p.m., $10, 21+