Portland, Oregon’s Tom Filepp (Cars & Trains) has made two sonic shifts on his new tape. The first is that after three vocal albums, he’s now fully instrumental. (Yay!) The second is that he’s enlisted William Ryan Fritch on orchestration. This latter shift is an incredible aid to his sound, as it provides balance: as one might expect from the moniker, Cars & Trains is playful and fun, but Fritch adds a layer of seriousness that allows the listener to hear the album both ways. The most obvious comparison is to Lullatone, who also alternate between vocal and instrumental releases and share a love for clever titles. (The best title here: “Spinning mountains, roads and sky between your fingers”).
The album release has been preceded by two singles. The first of these, “Iris”, was mentioned in our Fall Music Preview. We said there that it sounded like Christmas, and it still does, with both sleigh bells and bicycle bells providing a hint of the upcoming season. “3:54 of dreaming dangerously” followed, after which “Iris” was re-released as the b-side of a bonus track (“Ten lions and the end of the world”), which holds its own with the rest of the album and probably should have made the cut (but don’t despair, it’s Name Your Price!).
The pleasure of listening to Dust is found in its spirit. This is a warm and colorful recording, fulfilling the promise of its cover art. Cars & Trains seems to come from a place in which nothing hurts, or at the very least, every hurt is addressed with hope. The recurring sound of winding toys offers anticipation; there is always something new to be unwrapped. On “Asphalt cracks, asphalt breaks”, an array of music boxes comes to the forefront, laying down a sonic blanket of plastic keys; when the strings enter, they make the song more than just play. An analogy might be the pride of a parent watching a child, mixed with peaceful nostalgia. In similar fashion, the string-laced finale of “26hz” gives the fireplace an extra log just when it is needed, and the final minute of the final song (“The stars in my head”) comes across like the day’s last daydream leading into the night’s first night dream.
For the price of an album, supporters of the project also receive the entire Cars & Trains back catalog (similar in timbre, just add vocals!), as well as all of the music that the artist releases in the next year. It’s a wonderful bonus that adds to the positive vibe created by this portable, upbeat little cassette. (Richard Allen)