You've got to love an album that begins with a song called "Bells of Saint Alcohol." Davey VonBohlen's matter-of-fact account of booze-as-career is somehow light and airy -- or at least accepting, even reverent, of a way of life that is usually treated with more dreary concern and grimness. On Calling Albany, a thin, almost upbeat acoustic guitar and a forlorn but stoic accordion lead the way for VonBohlen's songs about swilling and pseudo-spirituality. His singing sounds tinny and echoing, as if it were coming from the bottom of an empty beer keg the size of a swimming pool; he practically chirps while reciting otherwise bleak lines like "Do you see God when you're drinking?/I do."
Vermont is the lo-fi, low-key side project manned by the Promise Ring's VonBohlen and Dan Didier along with Pele guitarist Chris Rosenau, and it follows a pleasingly divergent track from those outfits. The band's first full-length, Living Together, was well received as a subdued counterpoint to the Promise Ring's more overwrought bombast. The subtlety continues on Calling Albany, an album that finds VonBohlen's melodic and songwriting skills more clearly and starkly on display. The band doesn't indulge the grinding loudness that the Promise Ring is known for, and VonBohlen seems comfortable playing around with songs that his other band would probably never record.
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Rumor has it that Vermont is becoming more of a main course than a side; Calling Albany suggests it's a step these players would be wise to take. Though rooted in minimalist instrumentation and straightforward, understated presentation, the band is also learning how to fill in the spaces that were left open the first time around. Thankfully, Vermont does so without betraying the lo-fi, bong-hit, basement-jam-session quality of its first release. Shall we all raise a glass?