Think of The Strokes, and then imagine them as flesh-made human beings with emotions rather than the porcelain party-dolls you just pictured—then, imagine them putting something out on Saddle Creek. That might approach the aura of Big Harp, an L.A.-based outfit who shape a love for folk and punk-tilted indie rock into thoughtful pop tunes that burn like a strong drink. It’s one of those storyteller records, and happily, Chris Senseney’s sardonic reality is a compelling one, even if I can’t always understand what he’s saying.

The music is pretty interesting, too: Fuzz bass abounds, successfully pulling the band’s rootsy-bluesy core into gnarled, gritty territory—familiar, but twisted. It’s a nice context they’ve built in which to experiment from track to track: Jaunty Vampire Weekend-like beat and floaty strings in “You Can’t Save ‘Em All,” dour accordion in “Call Out The Cavalry, Strike Up The Band,” freaked, warbling guitars in “Micajah With His Hands Up.” Senseney’s reedy baritone is the clear focus, as well as the origin of that ill-advised Strokes comparison—it’s like Julian Casablancas in the form of a soul singer, capable of flying through complex runs and tying ’em off with an elegant, wide vibrato. The strain of his performances matches the mood of acceptance-amidst-dejection beautifully, and adds another distinction between this effort and poppier indie-meets-blues business like The Black Keys.

It’s hard to give this collection its proper due without a lyric sheet in front of me. What I can hear of the writing is brainy as hell, jagged and despondent, but much of it comes out in a lax drawl—hardly a flaw, but for that reason, I can’t really take in this record’s full and complete character. Despite that, I’m unquestionably into Chain Letters, and that might say more than anything I could have gleaned from the words. Fans of Saddle Creek should dig the rustic sounds and the attention to poetic detail, and might also take heart in hearing this guy’s sour grapes being dealt with in such euphoric fashion.

In A Word: Comforting

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