The Dead Leaves
Cities on the Sea
Verdict: A collision at the intersection of indie pop and rock. No injuries.
Three years ago, with his name out front, Matt Joe Gow - formerly of Dunedin, long-time Australian resident - delivered the promising debut The Messenger,f which walked a line between alt.country and country-rock with some fine lyrics. Here - his name subsumed into the band - there's a smart shift to a kind of alt-pop-rock. Songs like the quietly dramatic Ordinary Lot and the coiled menace and self-doubt of Harm have subtle hooks aplenty.
The names "Lloyd Cole" and "Grant Lee Phillips" will be mentioned in hearing him, in an affirmative way. The arrangements are excellent, and guests Gin Wigmore (on the Cole-like ballad This Living) and Emma Louise (the excellent rocked out alt-country of Changing) add interesting but necessary colour. Because over the long haul, Gow's flattened vocal delivery becomes too similar when some material (In My Surrender, where the band jangle and push into widescreen power-pop, or on the bristling energy of Spare Parts) deserves more adrenalin or emotional wallop.
However, he's pitch-perfect on the cinematic and emotionally naked ballad If Anyone Asks, a real highpoint, and on the pop-country of Everybody's Lost Someone. They also do a lovely job on Talking Heads' This Must Be the Place. Not quite the direction that debut suggested, but the best is very persuasive.