Never before have I listened to an album, or, in this case, an EP, so dedicated to a rhythm. All five songs on Painted Birds Flying in the Orange Mirror Sun seem to me as if they are all separate stretches of the same road; the listener cruises through this short sampler of The Western States Motel without the least bump or traffic jam pulling their attention away from the great and expansive landscape.
That is not to say that there aren’t change-ups here and there throughout the album. In fact, “Stampede,” the first track on the album, features many differing kinds of change-ups. One of the most notable, yet one of the subtlest that occurs on the album, is the lead-in acoustic riff to the aforementioned track, a riff which features two repeating parts that are quite distinct in tone from one another. The first part consists of a very measured and precise change of chords, falling then rising in pitch, with each chord change landing on the pulse of this fairly simple 4/4 rhythm. Despite the assurance such regularity might be thought to provide, one is greeted with a slight sense of trepidation, an intimation of something impending; in the same way that something can be too quiet or too clean, this phrase is perhaps too ordered, as if for presentation. One can faintly hear the deception, something lurking, and then one waits for whatever is imminent to come…to come.
What ultimately happens is hardly dramatic; it is merely a change of chord progression. The chord changes in this second phrase do not land on the pulse of the rhythm, but now fall somewhere off-beat. In addition, this phrase is not repeated like that which came previous. Both of these changes are now met with a change much more noticeable and striking: a change in tone. The music now seems suddenly much lighter in contrast to the anticipation and trepidation of the previous part of this opening riff.
Be that as it may, the 4/4 meter stays intact. The rhythm continues. As the song progresses, the single lane highway that started off the album with a few chords on guitar eventually comes to merge with vocals, with other instrumental tracks, and the music cruises on all the same, rolling steady down that same stretch. It is not just the meter that continues though; there is a distinct rhythm, a certain kind of amble, to this music, something not conveyed in the numbers 4/4, and it works through all the change-ups to be found on the album, change-ups that might be assumed simple bumps in the road. The Western States Motel somehow finds a way to pull all these dips and jolts into a smooth, meditative drift. They do so not by attempting to pave over inconsistencies, but rather by letting them bake in the open sun and let the music hit the divot naked. How this exactly happens is a bit mysterious to me, but its nothing too worrisome. The Western States Motel seems to have it figured out.