JESSE SYKES & THE SWEET HEREAFTER > Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul

Written by March 1st, 2008 at 6:01 pm

Label: Barsuk
Rating: ★★★½☆ 

The third album from Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter-like its predecessors, Reckless Burning and Oh, My Girl-proceeds at a decidedly unhurried pace, but one that could hardly be considered listless. Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul shows a band not half-awake, but all-consumed-even enraptured-by its own spacious, apparitional soundscapes, moving deliberately, patiently, pensively through 12 tracks of transcendental western balladry and country-rock.

Sykes’ delivery is haunting, and the songs are often languid in tempo and sparsely arranged-still they’re not as unrelentingly dark and gloomy as journalistic descriptions sometimes suggest. Sykes lisps, murmurs and incants cryptically, her breathy restraint sounding as though it conceals a wealth of peyote-fueled visions. Phil Wandscher-guitarist and founding member of Whiskeytown-is the perfect foil for Sykes’ reedy alto. One minute his guitar playing is shimmering and tranquil-the next he erupts into ecstatic fits, unleashing a torrent of barbed notes.

Not all of the songs are wispy and eidolic. As much as Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter merit the oft-repeated comparisons to Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons-Sykes’s long, straight black locks and natural mien even favor a younger Harris-such references don’t capture their ethos. They are, after all, Seattle-based-not Joshua Tree, Calif. The jaunty psychedelia of “You Might Walk Away,” the loose and easy groove of “How Will We Know?”-reminiscent of Harvest-era Neil Young-and the stop-and-go guitar rock of “I Like the Sound” only add to the album’s intoxicating ebb and flow.


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