(Academia Tapes, cassette, digital, 7-inch)
Poor and Perfect represent the latest venture from Chris Rosenquest, formerly of the Providence, R.I.-based alt-country band the Tower and the Fool. Since leaving that band, Rosenquest has landed in tiny South Royalton, Vt., where he's been writing and recording alongside some notable locals, including Jer Coons, Zac Clark and Mike Poorman — the last two of whom also played in the Tower and the Fool for a time. In an email passed along by his label, Academia Tapes, Rosenquest says he's been "working on a new creative platform to release music." The result of that work is a new cassette single/"digital 7-inch," Ribs / Friends, Heart, Family. Interestingly, Rosenquest's "new" creative outlet harks to a fairly old one.
During Rosenquest's tenure, the Tower and the Fool mined the melancholy 1990s alt-rock of bands such as Counting Crows and Gin Blossoms — groups whose lasting legacies might be as two of that era's guiltiest of pleasures. Rosenquest doesn't exactly shy away from those retroactively uncool influences. (What? as if you didn't rock out to "Hey Jealousy" like the rest of us.) But he's not necessarily beholden to them, either. Colored by a tumbling mandolin line, the lead cut, "Ribs," is a rolling slice of twangy pop that borrows both melodic and structural cues from the likes of Messrs. Duritz, Hopkins and, to a lesser degree, the Lemonheads' Evan Dando. But he manages to soften those writers' melodramatic charms. Rosenquest's voice hums with light-sandpaper grit that recalls Big Head Todd and the Monsters' Todd Park Mohr — to continue down the 1990s wormhole — which lends his quirky romantic musings some welcome gravitas.
The B-side cut, "Friends, Heart, Family," is built on an arpeggiated acoustic progression, over which Rosenquest croons in his detached but tuneful growl. Further darkening the mood are fleeting trembles of distorted guitar that build and disperse as the song ebbs and flows in its chilling intensity. It is a brooding, lighter-worthy 6/8 ballad if ever there was one (before cellphones, we flicked Bics at concerts, kiddos).
Look, I'm a product of the 1990s. So I will always have a soft spot for any music that evokes that era of my youth. And I can say with near certainty that, had they existed when I was 16, either of these cuts by Poor and Perfect would have landed on numerous mixtapes along with high school staples such as "Bittersweet," "Fall Down" and "Rudderless." That's not meant as a slight, or to suggest the band's music is particularly dated. Rather, Poor and Perfect capture the essence of what made that music compelling, putting enough of a modern spin on it to make a thirtysomething critic feel a little bit like a teenager.
Ribs / Friends, Heart, Family by Poor and Perfect is available at academia.bandcamp.com.