No matter what the decade or style of music, you can always tell when Steve Albini’s touched an album. It’s all in the drums. When Chris Brokaw hits the snare on any of the songs on The New Year’s latest, The End is Near, one is immediately reminded of David Lovering’s percussive assault on The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa. And if you’ve heard both albums, you’d know just how bizarre a comparison that is.
There are practically no credits to be found in the album sleeve, however, leaving no proof that Albini was ever here. All that The New Year care to let you know is their name, album name, tracklist and songwriting credits. But anyone who wants to find out anything else about who was involved in the album has to make a visit to their website to learn more. This air of mystery surrounding the band’s new release couples their distant, slow-core sound fittingly.
Despite the apocalyptic tone of the album title, the band gets cheeky, titling the first song “The End is Not Near.” Built on phrases of complex time signatures, the song is intricate enough that it makes you feel smarter just listening to it. Bubba Kadane’s voice lazily floats over the gently plucked guitar in a quiet haze of delicate melody. It’s apparent from the get-go, this isn’t a Friday night party album.
Though Kadane, Brokaw and Co. tend to favor more subtle textures and a minimum of distortion, they occasionally pick up the pace a bit to keep things interesting. “Chinese Handcuffs” is one of the more rocking (and I use that term loosely) songs on the album, beginning with some simple bass grooves and slowly adding louder bits of guitar and drums as the song goes on. “Plan B” is a little more straightforward, eschewing more complicated rhythms for a simpler, Pavement-style pop song.
Throughout the brief 34 minutes of the album, The New Year drifts between four-on-the-floor beats and peaks of technical proficiency. They’re a band that know how to play their instruments and aren’t afraid to show it, though they never indulge in aimless wankery. It just wouldn’t gel with the bands subdued flavor.
The End is Near is a satisfying sophomore effort from the Texan five-piece. Though gentle and restrained at times, the album is nonetheless a fine collection of lovely music. If you’re still wondering about Albini, however, go to www.thenewyear.net and take a look.
…As if you had any doubt.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.