I love how people hate Connor Oberst. He’s become very successful making legitimate DIY independent music, bringing the entire city of Omaha along for the ride no less. Let’s face it, you would have never heard of Cursive or Neva Dinova without Bright Eyes’ influence on aughties culture. Many people’s envy turns to distaste when a contemporary is wildly successful, and lines like, “Life’s not fair. I wanted to die young with my true love but ended up a millionaire,” probably aren’t doing him many favors; neither is the recent pairing of “First Day of My Life,” with the Zillow Real Estate commercial, but this is also the man who said, “I do not read the reviews.” So it’s likely Mr. Oberst couldn’t care less about this article or your opinions.
While we’re all familiar with Saddle Creek Records, their offshoot Team Love is much less celebrated. The farmer rarely acknowledges the mule when giving thanks over the harvest, but he still enjoys the fruits of its labor. Team Love was begun by Oberst and Nate Krenkel to cut through the bureaucracy of traditional labels by streamlining the delivery of a finished product from the artist to the fan. For kicks, see the Team Love Library where a rotating menu of label releases are available for download, no strings attached. The music is effectively yours to trade, keep, share with friends or whatever you wish. While most indie labels are obsessed with the “hear in now,” another unique facet of Team Love is the respect and loyalty shown to musicians who’ve been indie since before you were born. If you’re into David Dondero or Simon Joyner’s respective 20+ year careers like we are, you should thank Team Love and Mr. Oberst for these artists’ (amongst others’) continued ability to eat.
Team Love takes chances, but much like Sub Pop before them fortune favors the bold. Their most recent gamble has been on Providence, Rhode Island locals the Last Good Tooth. Right now the Providence scene might just be the Seattle of yore. Everyone knows and loves Deer Tick; less well known but equally exciting are The Low Anthem or Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons, all of whom hail from a town of less than 200,000 people. From humble origins far removed from the illuminated music circles and bright lights of the big cities, Providence seems as if it’s on the cusp of being the next big deal. If one were so inclined to jump that wave before everyone else, they would look no further than Last Good Tooth.
Not Without Work and Rest is an ambitious critical examination of the working musician’s young man blues. Featuring cryptic, ambiguous lyrics concerning the desultory nature of human existence, struggles with god and life alike, vocalist Penn Sultan delivers a unique perspective on the duality of man in a lulling, silk-lined baritone that conveys emotion without a trace of angst or urgency. It’s a definitively masculine voice that one doesn’t often hear in the pop realm. Imagine Devendra Banhart sedated and less inclined to falsetto.
It’s an odd listen taken as a whole. The music of Not Without Work and Rest is just as contradicting and mysterious as the album’s title would imply. The introductory “Look What I’ve Made,” gives the appearance that Last Good Tooth is a folk rock outfit, but any attempt at labeling becomes folly as the track list progresses. And though there is fiddle and banjo included on most tracks, the atypical arrangement of rhythms and breakdowns, the percussionists flirtation with jazz influences, the spoken sonic miasma of background ambiance and the use of vocals as melody makes the music anything but traditional.
Track five, “Some Kind of Pair,” serves as the best device to describe the album as a whole. It begins with a distortion-tinged reggae guitar rhythm over a sinister backward loop of strings. The lyrics come in and crescendo is reached on a major sustain before the incomprehensible inclusion of a breakdown. This is all within the first thirty seconds. When it resumes there is some sense of play between the vocals and the rough hewn stop and start of the bass and guitar, creating a properly baleful atmosphere that distracts by the thoroughness of its gloom when outta nowhere you’re assaulted by a pixie muted trombone! When the horn dies the dirge continues, building on waves of swelling strings and false stops. It continues, playing on the original melodic theme when without warning at the fifth minute the time signature leaps forward into a samba or perhaps Bossa Nova in its rhythmic approach, carrying over a verse, before breaking down yet again. The song resurfaces with an anguished, furious lead that builds against wracked, screamed vocals before a final unexpected ending. The song is decidedly creepy, effective to a frightening degree, leaving you to wonder how a single track can take so many directions yet remain coherent. It’s enough to make you wanna start your own band. And while your head reels the next track begins. It’s a simple 4/4, verse/chorus/verse about leaving town, suggesting there’s nothing wrong, like nothing fucking disturbing just penetrated your brain and shook the foundation of your beliefs about what makes a song.
Not Without Work and Rest is an atypical, fore planned and well executed album. It is by no means fun, but it is exceedingly intelligent. I don’t enjoy this record so much as I’m intrigued by it. It’s doubtful whether Last Good Tooth will ever sell a lot of records, but if this be their first time out the gate, future endeavors don’t seem so much promising to me as they do compulsory.