INKWELL COLLECTIVE – Falling Signs
The Fox Valley’s Inkwell Collective sounds a bit like Matt Pond PA would if a more substantial singer took over lead vocals; for some reason Cat Stevens keeps coming to mind. Like MPPA, the Collective adds strings to what would otherwise be standard singer-songwriter fare. The players that back lead singer/songwriter Steev Baker aren’t always the most technically proficient, but what they lack in skill they make up for in earnestness. And Falling Signs overflows with sincerity, from the opening track “They Found a Hand, They Found an Unburned Bible” (which unfortunately never sufficiently addresses the mystery of the title) through the holiday depression of the closer “At Christmastime I Need You Most.” With its chorus of “At Christmastime I need you most / Like Ebenezer Scrooge / I’m spending my whole life / Looking out for ghosts,” it begs to be included on an alternative holiday collection.
The highlight of the recording falls right in the middle of the disc. “Medicate! Medicate! Medicate!” is, oddly enough, the advice given by Vincent Van Gogh who has just stepped from a painting (hmmm, it would seem they may have already taken that advice). A joyful ode to better living through chemicals, its infectious chorus distinguishes it from the mostly mid-tempo songs that comprise the bulk of music. “Passenger Pigeon” hints of Del Amitri’s straightforward pop hit “Roll With It” with string squeaks and squeals layered over the top. A sarcastic list of gratitude, “Thanks for the air pollution / Thanks for the tax evasion / Thanks for the mass extinction / Thanks for the passenger pigeon,” Baker somehow never places any blame, leaving us with righteous indignation and no target.
The beautiful yet seemingly hopeless “Hello, Hospital” bemoans wasted youth with the words, “One drink out of five / Four times out eight / Five days out of seven / Seven weeks out of ten / Ten months out of twelve / Eight years out of nine / I’ve wasted twenty years,” before accepting the inevitable with the sighed resignation, “Goodbye, simple life / Hello, hospital.” “She Watches Birds” puts a face on that hopelessness, telling of an invalid neighbor who reads the obituaries with apprehension and admires the way the birds come and go.
The Inkwell Collective seems to have aspirations of joining the ranks of the chamber-pop club that includes the Decemberists, Bright Eyes and the Arcade Fire, but they lack the epic storytelling, brilliant lyricism and stunning inventiveness, respectively, of those bands. But honestly, that’s okay; sometimes those bands can be a little overwhelming, leaving you longing for pleasures as simple and uncomplicated as the Collective’s always-listenable blend of folk, country and rock.