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CD Reviews: The Standard
The Standard: August
June 2003
By: Dave Kender
album cover of The Standard's August

Upon first listening of The Standard's August, you're going to swear you've heard these songs before, even though you probably haven't. That's because their second full-length album carries a bit of everything great in non-radio rock right now.

Coming out of the indie rock fallout of the Pacific Northwest, the Portland-based five man troop seems determined to forgo their predecessors' penchant for hurried punk pop. They explore every inch of their songs with a grab bag of electronics. Take, for instance, Five Factor Model, which begins with a simple, catchy synthesizer line. Your fingers are already bouncing against your leg. Then, of course, comes the requisite crunching guitar and clean, 4/4 drums. But a third of the way through the song, the band suddenly pauses, and you hang on a precipice of silence before plunging headlong into something far more complex and fascinating.

The Standard has discovered, like so many bands in the post-The Bends era, the practice of layering. Not in the classic, Phil Spector more-is-more sense, but with an exacting patience that allows them to build a varied and subtle soundscape within each song. They understand the value of production and have taken full advantage of their new relationship with Chicago's Touch and Go label.

So much of the appeal hangs in the space between the notes, where Jay Clarke's delicate keyboard and Tim Putnam's meticulously cracked vocals allow for the weight of melancholy to sink in. And melancholy they are, calling to mind the mind the more measured moments of Modest Mouse and Shipping News, another band in the Touch and Go/Quarterstick family.

Yet, all the high-end equipment in the world can't save a band that doesn't have, at its core, solid song writing. And here, once again, The Standard shines through, snatching the album from the jaws of monochromatic emotion by infusing experimental rhythms and exceptionally captivating lyrics. Paper, with a Tortoise-like, world beat feel manages to relate a tale of lost love without a hint of irony, an all-too-common downfall of indie rock.

The strongest track is the closer, The Quiet Bar. A piano-driven ballad that slowly entwines a rich tapestry of instrumentation, it's everything you might love about Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, but with the knowledge that this is a band still on their way up. It's a faint memory / of a distant life / One that we could forget / With a drink and a line / And everything that I took down with him / Eventually came back to me again.

Long after you reach the close of the forty-five minute record, those final lines continue rolling over your ears and leaving you with high hopes for their next outing.

Dave Kender lives on Earth (currently), where he writes things that interest him and a small group of fellow weird people, including comic books. You can email him at