Rusty String Deluxe repackages the first album by Portland, Oregon, multi-instrumentalist and electronic wizard Tom Filepp, who records under the name cars & trains. In addition to the original album, the reissue includes the little song EP, remixes by other artists, and covers by the Harvey Girls and Ceschi. While all of this extra content is cool, there’s of course no reason to give the extended treatment unless the source material merits further exploration in the first place. Filepp’s work more than passes this test. His distinct combination of traditional instrumentation with electronic elements results in music that is singular, and at once familiar and forward looking.
As hip-hop and electronic music carve out their respective space in the music landscape, they have begun to bleed into other genres with varied results. While one path has led to the vanilla rap of Kid Rock and Big and Rich, a far more interesting one has opened that blends the banjos and fiddles of roots music with sounds and beats. The outcome is less radio friendly than say, “All Summer Long,” but Filepp is mapping new musical territory rather than merely putting a bass beat underneath a pop song.
From the opening notes of “Some Sort of Overture,” Filepp seamlessly mixes layers of noise and distortion over melodies and vocals. Though some of the songs wander slightly as he tries new combinations, more often than not Filepp is able to rein in the impulse to experiment in favor of creating tight compositions. Rusty String Deluxe could be disorienting at the outset because of the uniqueness of its point of view, but the album ultimately delivers on a good portion of the possibilities opened by Filepp’s experimentation.
The extra material on the disc further highlights the possibilities inherent in the fusion of an electric aesthetic within a new genre of music. The covers and remixes offer new permutations on the original songs, moving them one more generation from the source material and opening even more creative possibilities. Though the merits of the original versus interpretation is open to debate, Rusty String Deluxe showcases the what can happen at the intersect of supposedly exclusive musical genres.