Back in '95, Superchunk released Here's Where the Strings Come In. Be Still Please from Portastatic, a side project of Superchunk's Mac McCaughan, could similarly be named Here's Where the Oboes Come In. Like Hem's recently released Funnel Cloud, Be Still Please occasionally falls victim to over-orchestration. But McCaughan proves too much of an indie-rock veteran and pro to let that sink the entire album.
Be Still Please, the vibe of which is summed up by the title of the track "Sweetness and Light," opens up autumnal and string-laced. McCaughan, still singing in the timbre of a pre-pubescent boy, is so wordy on opener "Sour Shores" that it's hard to discern the point. "Black Buttons" has him lilting over gently strummed guitars and buzzy atmospherics. An ode to an obscure American painter, "I'm in Love (With Arthur Dove)," gets things rocking more, sounding like a track off Yo La Tengo's Fakebook.
Surprisingly, McCaughan gets pissed off politically on the second half of the nine-track album. "Getting Saved" has him doing a Dylan impression, accompanied by country-rock fiddles. On "You Blanks," McCaughan throws curses at the current administration and its fear-mongering; one line declares, "Now every horse I dream of/ is carrying a hearse." The invective continues to flow on "Like a Pearl," even though the song is much more quietly pretty, reminiscent of The Weakerthans. McCaughan laments lost life in Iraq, despairing, "This is every awkward teenage boy never coming back."
By the end of Be Still Please, the members of Portastatic have found the right formula for folding all those strings into their sound. "Song for a Clock," on which Mac begs time to be still so he can just enjoy life, is successful in its orchestration the way the best of Belle and Sebastian's chamber pop is.
It must be nice for McCaughan to have Portastatic for his gentler jones and Superchunk for his rock bone. All of us should have both our Jekyll and Hyde sides so well served.
Label: http://www.mergerecords.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/portastatic
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