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The Pride of Chester James
Sleep Station, otherwise known as singer and chief writer David Debiak, busted out concept album after concept album in the early 2000s, using an eclectic take on clearly Beatles-influenced pop songwriting for sprawling narratives with a novellic flair. After a four-year break that involved the debut release from a side project of his, I Sing the Body Holographic, Debiak is back with The Pride of Chester James -- but a concept record it isn't (despite Debiak's insistence that his earlier releases weren't so, either). It surely carries a title leading one to believe such intents, but any press information on the record mentions nothing of a concept and even Debiak has seemed to tone down the thematic elements of this particular release in a recent blog and failing to include lyrics with the album.
So while the themes stringing the songs together are even harder to pick up on due to a severe lack of background, musically, The Pride of Chester James is both warmly familiar and a bit progressive for Sleep Station. Like Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (another sure influence for the course of Sleep Station's career), Debiak alternates between more traditional acoustic backings and elaborate orchestrations, sometimes involving piano, wurlitzer, lap steel, mandolin, trumpet and a fuzzy stomp. The Elliott Smith similarities occasionally show their face too, notably in "Under the Lights."
The Pride of Chester James, because of all this and more, might be Debiak's most orchestral effort yet. Even when it seems Debiak is dependent on his acoustic, the song retains a strong identity. There's the upbeat country twang of "Tired of Me Now," the moodier "Paris" and the layered "Bells," where Debiak's voice is rather impressive.
So while Debiak certainly seems considerably musically accomplished with The Pride of Chester James, the album still fails to truly compel the listener with the startlingly fragile moods and textures that worked so well for Hang in There Charlie, Von Cosel and After the War. The songs are rarely dull and fairly well-written, there's no denying that; but something indescribable is missing.
The Pride of Chester James is certainly not up to par with its influences or perhaps its followers to come, but considering Debiak has been out of the game four years it's a pleasant and welcoming listen.