“Like a snapshot taken at twilight, their music is a photograph of a landscape caught at perpetual dusk.” This is an apt observation one critic made of Palaxy Tracks’ last record, which he also called “a plaintive little collection of songs that grows increasingly addictive the more times you listen to it.” A quick glance through the band’s press kit reveals similar praise from many other critics who share this sentiment. Palaxy Tracks’ distinctively subtle songwriting and expansive, somber guitar rock perfectly conveys a sense of loss and longing, evoking images of ghosts, memories, empty rooms and endless open roads. The group’s latest album, Twelve Rooms, shows a band that has progressed gracefully over the course of three records, perfecting a sound that has become more evocative and sweetly heartbreaking with each respective release.
Palaxy Tracks formed several years ago in Austin, TX, evolving from singer and songwriter Brandon Durham’s home recording project through various incarnations before landing at the current line-up of Brad Murph (guitar), Keith Grap (bass) and Ben Kane (drums). The name stems from claims about some distinctly human-esque footprints alongside dinosaur tracks in the limestone beds of the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas. Creationists believe these “giant man tracks” contradict the conventional geologic timetable, which holds that humans did not appear on earth until over 60 million years after dinosaurs became extinct.
Palaxy Tracks’ first record, The Long Wind Down, was released by Grey Flat Records in 2000. A record alternately wispy and angular, swimming with shimmering hooks effects-laden guitars, The Long Wind Down earned the band an avid local fan base and was named the best Texas record of 2000 by The Austin Chronicle. Not long afterwards, the band’s core members relocated to Chicago and recorded their second album, Cedarland, enlisting guest musicians from such luminaries as The Sea and Cake, Archer Prewitt, Poi Dog Pondering, Okkervil River and Shearwater to create a record with lush instrumentation and intimate, pillowy warmth.
On Twelve Rooms, the band’s third full-length outing, Palaxy Tracks once again shines in the studio. With this outing, the band has stripped away many of the electronics and relied more upon vintage analog instruments, enhancing Brandon’s songwriting with subtle horns, mellotron, hammond organ, pump organ and other finishing flourishes. These details are especially evident in some of the more somber tunes, although many of the new songs are also more driving and muscular, building in intensity to the final track, a gentle, ambient Eno-esque piece that could easily be the background score to an unnamed film.
Lyrically, Twelve Rooms is essentially a collection of stories and vignettes heavily inspired by the writings of Raymond Carver. Brandon writes about ghosts (“Grey Snake”), murder (“Camera”, “The Criminal Mind”), quiet desperation (“Me & You & Him”) and longing (“Dead Language”) with an insightful observance that is mournful yet detatched. He artfully tackles the more sensitive, personal subject matter in a way that is free from embarrassing self-pity or self-importance, and punctuated by wry lines like, “Right before we fight / I know you’re right” (“The Clarion Way”). Plus, if it wasn’t obvious already, Brandon also reveals his love for Leonard Cohen with a pitch-perfect cover of Cohen’s “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy.”
Brandon Durham’s sweetly melancholic croon and smart songwriting, Brad Murph’s melodic guitar hooks, Keith Grap’s moody bass lines and Ben Kane’s tight, focused drumming combine perfectly to provide the listener with a sweeping, expansively lovely listening experience — Twelve Rooms of swooning, bittersweet perfection.
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