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Artist: Jim Guthrie
Date Released: 2003
Label: Three Gut
- Problem With Solutions
- All Gone
- So Small
- Save It
- Broken Chair
- Lovers Do
- Time is a Force
- Now, More Than Ever
- The Evangelist
- You Are Far (Do You Exist?)
Exploring the reasons why a particular album or artist strikes such a resounding chord with your personal tastes is for the most part an endless and futile hunt that always circles back to the simple answer, "just because." I still remember the first time I listened to Canadian singer/songwriter Jim Guthrie's third full-length Now, More Than Ever; it was during the 2nd hour of an elongated traffic halt due to the just visible car accident on route during my trip back from Indianapolis. Maybe it was the unassuming album cover of simply a black bird and the bland hues of a yellow sky or the sparse press packet accompaning the disc, but the elegant music coming from my crappy car speakers was the last thing I expected. For the next 40 minutes I sat motionless, intently listening to Guthrie's modest voice and doing the only thing you can do in a situation like this, stare.
Guthrie, a former Royal City member, had previously made his mark as mainly a bedroom pop experimenter, producing 2 solid but inconsisentent full lenths, 2000's A Thousand Songs and 2002's progression, Morning Noon Night. For Now, More Than Ever, Guthrie has all but stripped himself of his former tag, enlisting members of The Constantines, Rockets Red Glare and Royal City along with the unparalleled (at least in indie-rock) and essential string arrangments of The Hidden Cameras' Owen Pallett. This backup band is a vastly better compliment to Guthrie's musical ideas than anything electronic or programmed. His strongest asset is his ability to sound so overwhelmingly human and understanding; experiencing this album is more like having a conversation with Guthrie rather than idly listening to solely his problems. The band provides the natural accompaniment that takes his music from being cutesy or gimmicky to the present state of lush, emotion-filled indie-rock that allows Guthrie to take center stage with his sometimes simple, sometimes abstract but always heart-felt lyrics.
The album kicks off with the completely approachable Problem With Solutions centered around Guthrie's reciprocal lyrics, a rippling cello and finely played banjo. It sets the stage for what's to come; nothing ever takes full command, the musicians find their niche and happily compliment the surrounding noises. All Gone picks up the tempo, volume and depth as a multilayered Guthrie let's his voice swell and shrink along with strings. While most albums, at some point, have an arc leading up to a climax of sorts, the next 5 songs form a sturdy plateau. So Small is a self-reflecting fixation on mortality spiced with plucked violins and a dancing piano line; Save It builds up from disheartening electric guitar strums and a yearning Guthrie culminating into yelping violins and feedback; Broken Chair takes it back a notch, settling into a mellow groove with a pronounced snare rhythm; Lovers Do follows suit, but quickly forces musical experimentation and picks up energy before letting the strings take center stage for the last minute and a half of the song; and finally, Time is a Force appears triumphant before Guthrie finds self-realization about 3 minutes in and the song fizzles into a musical sigh. The instrumental title track suffices as the downward slope off the plateau before the album wraps up with slightly unsettling (in the prettiest way possible) The Evangelist. I say 'wraps up' because the final track, You Are Far (Do You Exist?), is a musical leap away from the previous nine songs, though it's possibly the most penetrating 2 minutes of the entire album. A slightly nasal Guthrie pronounces his love and devotion before realizing the disheartened truth and asks, "Do you exist?"
With Now, More Than Ever Guthrie has clearly found not only his musical niche, but his voice as well. Not to denounce his previous two outings, but the ingenuity and clarity, not to mention the lasting appeal of this ablum is undeniable. He has somehow found the tiny section in indie-rock that is above lo-fi but not as overly cinematic as acts such as Sufjan Stevens tend to fall victim. I think this is why this album has seemed to have such a strong effect on me (and for someone who will always reach for a Fela Kuti LP rather than the latest indie-rock craze, that means something). Or it could be the dramatic memory I mentally trace it back to; but does it matter? I believe Jim Guthrie did a wonderful job with this album and I enjoy it greatly... just because. Mpardaiolo