It would make for an interesting read if a writer did a book about the behind-the-scenes machinations at two giant indie-rock labels – let’s say, for the convenience of this review, Sub Pop and Matador – similar to Peter Biskind’s expose on Mirimax and Sundance, Down and Dirty Pictures. What leads certain labels to sign certain artists? What drives them toward large shifts in their signature sounds? What the hell goes through Jonathan Poneman’s or Gerard Cosloy’s head sometimes? In the immortal words of David Byrne, “How did we get here?” – to where Sub Pop, progenitor of Seattle’s heavy, sludgy, grungy early-’90s sound, could release a record as weak and vanilla as Rosie Thomas’ If Songs Could be Held?
This is Thomas’s third full-length, all the more a letdown after a promising start. Her vocals made “Parking Lot” a standout track on an already great album, pal Damien Jurado’s Ghost of David. Those two met up again to duet on “Wages of Sin” for Sub Pop’s Springsteen tribute album. Thomas’s first EP, In Between, was understatedly pretty, especially on tracks such as “Leftover Coffee” and “Paper Airplane.”
But If Songs Could Be Held offers little of value. If you like Tori Amos, you’ll probably like “Pretty Dress.” If you love Sarah McLachlan, by all means, pick this album up. If you’re a music programmer for Gilmore Girls or Veronica Mars, you might want to give this a – oh, forget it, even you’re probably too hip for this mush.
Bright spots are hard to find. The lyrics of “Time Goes Away” are interesting for their family origins. “Don’t Matter to the Sun” is certainly happy and hopeful. And the album is imbued with a ’70s Laurel Canyon folksy vibe, appropriate since Thomas left rainy Seattle for Los Angeles to record If Songs Could Be Held.
Despite one track being titled “Loose Ends,” the album is too tied up, too tidy, too polished. Sure, Rosie Thomas isn’t the only folkie on Sub Pop’s roster, but comparatively, she makes Sam Beam seem like Ronnie James Dio.
If songs could be held, these would feel like cold oatmeal.
Sub Pop Records Web site