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The Early Lines

The Early Lines are a good band. But they could be a great band. Advice on how they can get over the hump.

The Early Lines’ best tune is called ‘We Could Do Better’—a seemingly startling admission for any band to make. Even though the song is about a collapsing relationship and not the band’s musical output, let’s pretend otherwise. Most artists would hesitate to admit that their music could improve, except to steadfastly declare that their new album bests their last. Not so for The Early Lines—their collective approach and willingness to play a wide breadth of styles makes them something of an anomaly in the world of music: a group without an ego or a singular identity.

There are three Early Lines—Daniel Doyle, Seth Sherman and Christopher Mosley—and their roles are ambiguous. They each sing, play guitar, bass, and drums, as well as write songs in their own distinctive styles. The Plano, Texas, natives’ sound hinges upon which member of the trio fronts the tune. Some songs are straight country, some tender Wedding Present-ish indie rock, and others early ‘80s Minutemen-inspired hardcore.

There are, however, some styles with which The Early Lines are clearly uncomfortable. For example, hardcore songs like ‘Grassmaze’ from their debut disc, Are Tired Beasts, find them still feeling their way through the genre, but lacking the sneering bravado needed to pull it off. On Beasts the songs that should be forceful are timid and the songs that are forceful feel unnatural, as if the disc’s producer, Steve Albini, tried to coax a careless aggression from them and failed. ‘NPR,’ ‘Sixty-Eight Seventy-Eight,’ and ‘Song the Bells Just Made’ fall flat due to poor songwriting and a distinct lack of confidence in their own performance. After all, even a bad song can entertain if it’s performed with conviction—something that, on their first album, the Early Lines were sorely lacking.

And the obvious musical leap made between 1999’s Are Tired Beasts and their latest effort, Hate the Living Love the Dead, is truly remarkable. Even on manic, up-tempo numbers like ‘Gentry,’ the band sounds much more relaxed on the new album. They have not only matured as songwriters, but as performers. ‘Strippers’ Taxes’ displays their best Shellac imitation with straining screams and primal pounding, letting the melody repeatedly slip away before snagging it again. Even ‘Birth/Burial,’ which starts with punk riffs before heading into a beautiful classic-rock-inspired coda, sounds leisurely tossed out, like they are unaware of just how good it is.

Along with the gentle drawl of ‘We Could Do Better,’ The Early Lines’ pop instincts gel best on ‘Heaven Muto.’ Quick, spastic guitar bursts a la The Minutemen’s D. Boon leap out between melodic verses, culminating in a double-timed wall of noise. The album’s handful of clunkers (among them, ‘Shake His Head’ and ‘Racoon Eyes’) sound like holdovers from the band’s earlier days, thus keeping Hate the Living Love the Dead from being a great album, merely a good one.

Other than these miscues, the casual performances of even their passable songs shine on the latest effort. Still, The Early Lines display little swagger on either of their records. Instead, they meekly tuck their chins to their chests, hoping for, but not expecting, approval. Aside from those miserable sods who play twee-pop, bands should never request appreciation from their fans—they should, instead, demand it. While The Early Lines’ humble approach is novel, a case of bloated self-esteem and a few scowls should boost their confidence, producing even better results.

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