After a decade languishing in obscurity, registering barely a boing or a blip on the alt-country sonar, it seems that these six Upstate New Yorkers have more pent-up passion for the open road than the bulk of their nature-loving neighbourhood brethren. Revelling in the combatant entanglement of urban and agrarian sounds, 'Stories of Happiness' (the band's first release since 2000's 'The Proudest Animal' EP) captures the sextet embracing an epic eclecticism that catapults them far beyond the realms of comfortable rurality. An artistic remit that certainly reaps rewards in the stylistic shape-shifting stakes, if nothing else. Thus the vicious 'Vacuumed' mixes 'Glum'-era Giant Sand gristle with Dick Dale surf twang and Fugazi drum clatter, highlighting the burning intent to cross musical borders from the start. The glorious mash of strings and shimmering guitars that is 'Helicopter' follows a little later on, owing a dual-debt to Calexico and Eleventh Dream Day, whilst further on in the proceedings the distended funk of 'Electricity Wire' betrays a fondness for Talking Heads' most frenzied early albums. The record's highest musical watermark is however reached at the monolithic mid-point - 'Diamond Mines' - a dramatic orchestral thunderstorm that recalls Ennio Morricone at his most menacing and macabre. But for all the group's genre-bending ingenuity, the best moments on 'Stories of Happiness' occur within the more stripped-down and sedate musical settings, as firmly attested by the wintery waltz of 'Flowers' (featuring Saint Low's Mary Lorson on guest vocals) and through the spooky organ/accordion-led strains of 'Betty Ford'. …this wild (and wide-screen) log-cabin breakout should, by rights, pull Plastic Nebraska away from long-suffering indifference and into the welcoming arms of adventure-hungry Americana addicts.
-Adrian Pannett, Comes with a Smile, London, England
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