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    Monday, July 21, 2008

    I have done my time on this one

    Photo by Richard Holt

    Leave it to Hello Damascus to try dampening expectations. Their latest title, "Iterative At Best," sounds more like an excuse or an apology. Iterative--meaning repetitive or reiterating--is one of the last adjectives I'd apply to this sad, gorgeous song. But then, this Portland band has always trafficked in modesty and understatement. Their 2006 album, Harvest Dolls, was a slow-blooming wonder, full of soft-spoken melancholy and quiet grandeur. That album's lead-off track, "Randy," didn't just stealthily rend hearts; it was capable of performing quadruple bypasses.

    Fortunately, "Iterative At Best" is a worthy successor to "Randy," and the band's best song since. It shares a similar mood--wise but wounded, hopeful but weary. Its lyrics are vague, centering on crime and guilt in some loose existential sense. "I don't need a hearin',/ I have done my time on this one,/ It comes down to who you're with and when," Matt Lounsbury sings like an workaday Atlas. His delivery reminds me of Matt Berninger on some long-lost National B-side, which, around here, is pretty high praise.

    Musically, Hello Damascus is operating just as much at the top of their game. Contrasting Lounsbury's soul-searching vocals, the accompaniment brightly sways and struts between verses. Jason Madore's piano and Jeff Hardison's drumming brim with life, nicely accented with touches of warm brass. It's not only the most excitable this four-piece has sounded to date, but also the largest. Every instrument registers its full capacity, making its presence deeply felt. Every woozy melody line and jazzy bridge feels proud and vital.

    Ultimately though, the song's best feature is its vast replayability. Like all eight tracks on Harvest Dolls, it only gets better with time and multiple listens. It expands and strengthens, showcasing different winning aspects on different occasions. Sometimes, it'll be the way Lounsbury's bandmates join in on certain lines like the last proponents of a failing cause. Other times, it's that triumphant piano, bravely charging uphill despite its Sisyphean task. Yet other times, it'll be those last few chords, so eager to chug out on a high note. Iterative at best? After twenty-five plays and counting, it sounds more like iterative at its very best.

    * MP3: "Iterative At Best" - Hello Damascus
    * MP3: "Randy" - Hello Damascus from Harvest Dolls [Download the album]
    * MySpace: Hello Damascus
    * Previously: Out in front: Hello Damascus MP3s

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