The Upshot: Produced here by Simon Joyner, the Callaci brothers’ signature laid-back rusticity remains intact as the linking DNA between its noisier lo-fi beginnings and the stripped-back models of recent years.
By John Schacht
With its irresistible songwriting draw to times good and bad, the past is a honey trap. The danger lies in getting fossilized back there.
That’s clearly on the minds of the Callaci brothers (Allen and Dennis, the latter founder of indie stalwart Shrimper Records) and their band mates in Refrigerator. Throughout the 11 tracks on their 11th LP, the group’s signature laid-back rusticity remains intact as the linking DNA between its noisier lo-fi beginnings and the stripped-back models of recent years.
But with decades of tenure come plenty of reasons to look back. “Break Up the Band,” a mordant take on intra-band dynamics, reads like a litany of reasons ‘90s indie bands split up. Over a nervous beat accompanied by synth blips and the occasional crunchy guitar chord, the lyrics chronicle shitty bassists, cramped vans and horrific living conditions, but look back witheringly at the outsized importance any of them had: “A self-referential past that was barely lived/how could we expect anyone to care about it?/Caught in amber/sleeved in plasticene/reanimated by kids spinning it to death.”
Even if it’s part piss-take, it’s still pretty grim fare and the anger bleeds through. The LP’s better when it’s less self-referential in its reminiscences and more open to timeless (read: twangy) tropes. Opener “High Desert Lows,” with its tinkling piano fills and pedal steel, is a gorgeous glass-raiser to sorrow; “Twice as Less” is a pretty Neil Young-like ballad mourning what’s lost when relationships die; “World of Warcraft” is an ode to self-destructive relationships that waltzes its way into your heart with strings, guitars and a go-for-broken (people) chorus, “take me with you, I don’t care where we go, I don’t care what we do.”
Unfortunately, High Desert Lows is frontloaded with its more compelling tunes. Allen Callaci’s vocals also have a limited range on the best of days, much like fellow traveler Simon Joyner, who produces and plays here as well. But the Callacis and company lack Joyner’s poetic knack, and through Refrigerator has always prized simple song structures as a vehicle for what they have to say, by the time you reach the twin dirges “The Maid” — a hook-less guitar and strings narrative about poverty — and skeletal piano piece “Bonnie Pointer,” the LP has run low on dynamism and charm, and feels frozen and lifeless in willful obscurity.
DOWNLOAD: “High Desert Lows,” “Twice as Less” “World of Warcraft”