Picture for a minute a band from Ohio. The band has no website. There are no pictures of band members on the sleeve of their CD’s, or circulating on the internet. The band plays a slow, methodical, and often cryptic brand of folk-laced slowcore, but just as deftly as more well-known bands. The band is signed to a critically-acclaimed but smaller California music label, with which the band has released 1 striking full-length (Novel), and 4 intriguing EP’s (Cool September Skies, Plum Brook, Imaginary Cars, Gravity Gun). This band has done all of this with little publicity, little attention being given to them, and with only a small but rabid fan base to show for their hard work.
This band is, of course, Ln, and with their latest release (and second full-length for Velvet Blue Music), Ln confirms what precious few people already know about the band….that despite the relative lack of buzz surrounding them, Ln is unquestionably an extremely talented group of musicians. Led by the haunting melodies, lyrics, and vocals of Gary Murray, Ln’s sombre The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1 strikes the listener with a sincerity that is lacking in today’s music scene. Originally conceived as a solo acoustic project for Murray, The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1 was transformed during recording into a fully fleshed-out band recording.
However, given that The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1 was originally to be a solo acoustic CD, it should not be surprising to note that this release is easily Ln’s starkest, the most stripped-down collection of songs offered by the band in their catalogue. The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1 begins with the aptly titled “Nerves Left Exposed”, featuring a gently-picked acoustic guitar caressed by Murray’s wistful vocals and subtle drones. “Nerves Left Exposed”, as mysteriously and dreamily as it fades in, blends into the instrumental “So The Words Disappear”, with its chiming keys and guitar lines. The growth of Ln’s songwriting is evidently displayed in the fabulous “Medicine”, featuring a restrained but intense drum part, a full arsenal of effected guitars, drones, keys, and other odd sounds, all uniting to provide the perfect backdrop to Murray’s increasingly confident vocal delivery. Sounding like a subdued, world-weary version of Chris Isaac (without the quivering falsetto), Murray’s vocals are stronger on The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1 than on any other Ln recording. He displays a keen sense of emoting powerfully through his voice, yet he sings delicately, never succumbing to the dreaded condition of “over-singing”. “Modern Day Hobo”, reminiscent of “And the Angels” or “Christmas Tiger” with its slight Western feel, prominent acoustic guitar, and lyrics portraying life on skid row, follows, allowing the listener to get lost in Murray’s sad tale and warm-sounding vocals. Throughout the course of The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1, Ln smartly sandwiches fuller songs like “Morning Stories”, with the more stripped-down acoustic songs like “Love Letter (For All That It’s Worth)”, while adding the occasional compelling instrumental piece (such as the foreboding “Slow Train to Hell”). The end result is that The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1 is a well-balanced recording, showcasing Ln’s remarkable ability to create full-sounding, well-produced music that borders on dream-pop, while tying that style of music to more stripped-down, bare-bones emotional songs.
Lyrically, The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1 is generally typical of an Ln release in that many of the lyrics are enigmatic, mystifying, sad, but paradoxically filled with hope. For instance, “The Rope” begins with the lines: “The cigarettes finally quit you, leaving you a lover on a dirty street.” Tales of loves lost, pain, heartache, and longing fill the listeners’ ears, yet these sober themes are balanced with songs like “California”, which convey Hope and Faith in a sincere and beautiful way. It is striking that a band can explore such extremes in their lyrics, without a forced approach on either side of the extreme. In the end, the listener is not only left with a fresh musical experience, but a thought-provoking and ultimately edifying experience due to the lyrics.
And, so another chapter in the history of this remarkable band is added in The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1. Ln has again stretched itself musically, creating a work that is simultaneously full, stripped-down, emotional, sad, warm, cold, touching, and expertly produced. Growing in songwriting, lyric-depth, performances (check out the amazing piano flourishes on “The Rope”), and vocals, Ln is easily one of the most talented bands in slowcore. One has to wonder what Ln must do in order to get the acclaim and attention they deserve, because this already prolific band keeps getting better and better. In the meantime, Ln’s faithful remnant will wear out their copy of The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1 as they listen repeatedly to this full, amazing work. Word is that The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 2 is already being recorded for release later this year…one has to wonder where this group will go after The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1, the most satisfying release of their excellent catalogue.
For fans of Jessica Bailiff, Low, Nick Drake, Coastal, Rivulets, Johnny Cash, Windy and Carl, etc.