Josh Rouse played medium-gear melodic scruff-rock for years, keeping his hands to himself and not mucking about with anyone. Then Tom Cruise played him at a party in Vanilla Sky. Calamity might have struck but Josh rallied nicely and produced more medium-gear melodic scruff-rock that wasn’t the slightest bit crazy. He did retreat to his bedroom for a while, by all accounts he’s still reluctant to come out of there, but it’s looking better, he’s got a tour with John Mayer coming up.
Meanwhile, Rouse has a new side project with vocalist Paz Suay called She’s Spanish, I’m American–it’s a pretty straightforward name and the EP is a five-song seventeen-minute stunner made from scratch in a literal bedroom for Rouse’s own imprint, Bedroom Classics. It’s one of those cut-up records, with Garageband drumbeats and other parts shipped in by IM, a devious process that makes you think of cut-and-paste collaboration and ransom notes assembled from newspaper headlines—”SeNd mE a nIce BaSs grOovE oR yoU’ll NeVeR SeE youR tReMolo InTrO again.” Intimacy is the logical expectation from a homemade piece like this and Rouse delivers with zero claustrophobia. In fact She’s Spanish, I’m American isn’t cloistered in the slightest, every song breaks the house down and heads for the nearest patch of grass. To put it another way, the songs are like t-shirts pinned to a clothesline on May 24th, then taken down and put away with smiles on their faces the dryer never would have produced.
Rouse and Suay hooked up previously for Rouse’s last record, the gorgeously slight Subtitulo and Rouse, realizing he’s onto something with the Spanish jag, asked her back. Rouse’s guitar has a cheerful disposition throughout but Suay’s floating vocals contribute most of the ambience. Her voice reiterates early Suzanne Vega, as it’s well adjusted and warm with a cool center. Rouse doesn’t take a lead vocal until the next-to-last track, “These Long Summer Days” which bottles up a fine melancholy even as it renders the album slightly unseasonable–She’s Spanish, I’m American is actually much better suited to the middle of May than the ache of winter. (Apropos of nothing, I love the fact that there’s a song called “Car Crash” and it’s not even the one about drunk driving–that would be “Jon-Jon” which would appear to be a sly wrist-slap to a dyspeptic Brandon Davis type.)
Mostly Rouse and Suay harmonize over a series of gentle plucks and noodling electronic structures. Rouse’s arrangements aren’t particularly reminiscent of Latin music but they’re imagistic as hell, built around love of coastline, affection for locomotion and mostly, the sizzle of mixed cultures. They remind me nothing so much of a Lila Downs show I saw once in a dilapidated theater with a scrabble of racial diversity–Lila wore spiky red boots and swiveled about to Mexican polyrhythyms but her Columbian percussionist persisted in playing very much like a Queen fan. She’s Spanish, I’m American replicates that odd, pleasant jolt of half-recognition.
Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing
Lila Downs – Tree Of Life
The Whitest Boy Alive – Dreams