Nose-raised indie attitude inevitably leads certain musicians to reclaim musical ground irradiated by disdain or indifference. And so it is that the Autumn Defense (Wilco bandmates Pat Sansone and John Stirrat) join singer-songwriters from Joe Pernice to Josh Rouse in supping on the dulcet, narcotizing sounds of 1970s soft rock. They don't pussyfoot around. The opening track, "Canyon Flute," with its trilling flute and sinewy jazz-funk bass line, has you wondering if you grabbed Steely Dan by mistake. The album's musical vocabulary is rife with these old signifiers of rayon-shirted, groomed-beard cheese, from "Where You Are," whose loping western tone, sustained acoustic strums and piano backing resurrects America, to the cabaret pop of "City Bells" and "This Will Fall Away." The absence of any sharp edges is disconcerting in the same manner as a jaunt on Princess Cruiselines you begin to wonder if you've entered an assisted living facility. While not as surefooted as Jon Brion, the Autumn Defense's arrangements are often quite pretty and soothing. "We Would Never Die," for example, abets a Beatlesque vocal melody with pedal steel, producing a wonderful bridge that haunts between Bacharach and the Burrito Brothers. Were there more immediately winning tracks like it or "Estate Remains," The Autumn Defense would be easier to recommend; as is, appreciation depends on your tolerance for the easy-listening idiom.
Chris Parker writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.