Tracker's dusty and modern road songs on the cheap

Posted by Mark Beaver, July 9, 2008 02:14pm | Post a Comment
First find on the dock: This has been waiting in the wings for some time, in fact, it’s a little bit of a redo, as it’s a title I championed a few years ago in the Music We Like book. I‘ll take this opportunity to expand my earlier opinion.

Tracker - Ames  (Film Guerrero)

Tracker is, basically, a guy from Portland, OR named John Askew (not to be confused with the DJ of the same name) and whoever he collects around him when he’s ready to record and tour. This was the first album from 1999 and is almost completely played by Askew with some help from friends Adam Selzer (Norfolk & Western) and Erik Herzog (Buellton). I bought it solely on the strength of the album art and the weakness of the price tag. Thus, I was doubly rewarded.

In a number of ways there are similarities to the dynamics of Jason Molina’s Songs:Ohia/Magnolia Electric Company projects. Both are the aggregates of a single man’s songwriting and organizational vision. Both have an undeniably roots Americana base, but with a lot of layering, whether it’s voices, samples of classical music or electronic textures hazing around simple plucked banjo lines. Like Molina, Askew writes extremely strong melodies, and couples them with thoughtful and often mystifying lyrics.

The charm of Ames is due largely to its lack of self-seriousness. Askew lets a breath of ease into his writing and production. “Evan’s Getting It Together” is driven with some lazy and seemingly living-room recorded handclaps that work perfectly to prove that, as beautiful and lush as the songs here sometimes get, they are being played by some guys who are just trying to make some cool songs that get into your head. In fact, some of the song transitions (and there is a lot of ambient connective tissue) remind me of the great also-overlooked Purple Blue by Eric’s Trip, another group of dudes (and a dudette) who were just trying to make some cool songs.

A lot of the tracks here have a plethora of patience. Not quite as patient as Red House Painters, but still with that laid-back, wait-for-it beat. The spirit of Neil Young's particular brand of open road permeates it all: clumsy waltzes (“Amboy, CA.,” “Standing in the Leak”), spaced out extensions (“Misinstructed”), and pared-down acoustic ballads with exiled Appalachian twang bubbling just under the surface (“We Don’t Need to Speak”).  Nothing drops on this album. Attention has been paid throughout.

“Liquored (in the Baker)” is the track that everything turns around. A beautiful gliss of guitar chime leads into a breathed vocal, doubling on the second verse with the texture of vintage radio. Then there's the wah-wah and the organ, barely played, barely goosing the pulse along. It develops like a really good morning, never becoming a jam, but always showing that it can if it wants to. And once you’re feeling really good, they follow up with the perfectly paced “The Telephone.” Oozing forward like the best of Okkervil River or Everest or Love As Laughter, until Askew cuts the music, you hear him mutter, “all right,” and then it all opens up into an expanse of fuzz and bass and tom.

For $2.99, it’s a thrill to find such a complete package. With a dusty scene of Monument Valley on the cover and a shot of empty road (across the hood of what looks like it could be a Charger) in the center of the booklet, Ames has put it all together. One of my favorite albums since 1999, and still popping up in the Amoeba Rock Clearance bins. It’s true, I saw one just last week. Go get it.

"Tracker are a Portland band specializing in texture: ambient, rock, country—all these vibes float in their songs like ether, investing the performance with an air of confident mystery.”  -The Stranger, Seattle

Here's two more great albums from Tracker that you're also likely to find cheaply:

Polk (Film Guerrero)

Blankets Soundtrack (Film Guerrero)

Relevant Tags

Love As Laughter (1), Eric's Trip (1), Alt. Country (1), Anomoanon (1), Neil Young (36), Will Oldham (13), Red House Painters (6), Early Day Miners (2), Palace Bro.s (2), Giant Sand (1), Magnolia Electric Co. (3), Bonnie Prince Billie (1), Jason Molina (2), Calexico (7), Okkervil River (7), Mark Kozelek (12)