(Third Eye Industries/Meat Wave Music, CD, digital download)
Maybe there should be a sort of musical tourism program. Towns could kick some dough to local bands and artists to score the soundtracks for their home cities, that sort of thing. Marco Polio's Matt Hall already released an album devoted to living in Syracuse, N.Y., and now Austin Petrashune, aka Austtin, has given us an album whose theme he describes as "the death and rebirth of the human spirit in Albany, New York 2016."
Granted, neither guy really sells the city he's using as a backdrop, so maybe it's closer to documentary work than tourism. But Petrashune has a lot to say about his year in the Empire State's capital.
After a nine-second intro featuring a David Bowie sample, Albtracks kicks off with the epic, schizophrenic "Albany Gives Me the Creeps." The song moves like a disjointed slide show, careening from dream pop to fuzzy garage rock to an almost Randy Newman-esque conversational ditty as Petrashune introduces us to his Albany stay.
Those familiar with local releases may recognize Petrashune and Hall's work from Plattsburgh/Saranac Lake prog-pop act the Mountain Carol. On his own here — with a few exceptions, Petrashune plays just about every sound on the LP — he skews closer to the indie songwriter aesthetic somewhere between Elliott Smith and Ben Folds.
Petrashune favors heavy themes, broken up by the occasional lighthearted arrangement or tongue-in-cheek lyric. The Tin Pan Alley swing of "21st Century Hobo Man" gives way to a short, lovely instrumental interlude, "37.5 Lovers," which in turn moves right to a funk-via-Devo sort of track, "Questions as Suggestions." That sort of eclecticism runs through the record like a theme unto itself.
"This Vampire Is a Job" finds Petrashune at his most indulgent. He croons the title in an almost show-tune melody, the music staying light and breezy as ominous lyrics roll off his tongue. "One day they'll find me underneath the floorboards / Icicles for my bones / the center of my eyes is black and blue," Petrashune sings.
Albums as nakedly autobiographical as Albtracks depend strongly on the artist's ability to be both musician and narrator. To tell the kind of tale Petrashune sets out to tell on this record requires that he take the listener through the stages of his year, and the 11 tracks feel like chapters flying by.
By the time the penultimate number, "It's Over Now," rolls out, life in Albany seems to have fallen apart. Petrashune sings of all the things he thought he might do in that year, all the things he might have become, all the little dreams he thought might come true. But, as so often happens in life, they never materialized.
In the final lyrics of the final song, "Albany Made Me Depressed," Petrashune tips his hat to the city, if in a sort of backhanded way: "Albany gave me the most precious gift of knowing I had to escape."
Albtracks is available at austtin.bandcamp.com/releases.