I went down to the street to get my car in the morning, to find it closely wedged into its space with less than an inch to spare in front or behind. It was early, the sun had just come up, and I noticed there was no one around. I had no choice but to wait, so I climbed inside the car, put on my headphones, and soon got lost. The music made me forget I was in any hurry. I didn't mind that I had to wait. And I almost loved that I was alone.
My car was parked on a particularly run-down street; homeless people lay in sleeping bags a few feet away, a half-demolished building sat abandoned on the corner, dead leaves and patches of ice blemished the asphalt. The sun, however, was shining, warming me through the windshield. With the music playing, my surroundings took on new colors, all of which reflected the thoughtful emotions Gorky's so understatedly depict.
How I Long to Feel That Summer in My Heart is an album that comforts and secludes it warms your insides. With this release, Gorky's have achieved everything an acoustic indie-pop album should achieve. It deliberately refuses to rock out, possessing a marvelous sense of self-control and composure. The music carefully leans toward the kind of country-folk perfection only hinted at on the last Gorky's album, Spanish Dance Troupe. Forgotten are the psychedelic '70s rock tendencies and noisy guitar hooks; gone too is the impression that Gorky's may have become lost in a giddy-pop mindset. You won't find another mental romp like "Poodle Rockin'" on How I Long.... The calm on this album comes from its blend of banjos, fiddles, harmoniums and Spanish guitars. A sleepy-sounding brass band seeps into some songs, while an assortment of gorgeous organs accentuates a good number of tracks, adding to the nostalgic, inviting atmosphere. Gorky's yearn for simple days, stirred by summer breezes, days of freshly mowed grass, blue skies and young love. All the while, their tone remains wistful and bittersweet.
Are Gorky's asking too much by asking so little? In an age where an album needs to be difficult to be considered substantial, they present us with the simplest of concepts, the tenderest of songs. Though complex, the arrangements are effortless and gentle. There are no shocks or surprises, but instead, How I Long... thrills us softly, its tiny layers and details all intricately woven together into a cohesive and aesthetically delightful tapestry.
The best moments on the album begin with the nearly whispered opening of "These Winds Are in My Heart." Its sweetness reveals underlying sadness, pain, and subdued anger; it builds upon itself, undulating, pulsating, itself a beating heart. Standing on the edge, unloading its sorrow like a most intimate letter, it brings us to the point of near-overload as it confesses "Oh, how these dreams never start, I thought we never would part...." The story remains unresolved, as does the music, never quite letting go of the listener. My heart, broken ever so slightly, also began to pine.
What follows, the title track on the album, is a comedown of sorts. While "These Winds..." makes us experience all the hero's sadness, the track "How I Long" is like a private remembrance. We've come closer to accepting that summer may never arrive, and if it does, it will be only after we've felt the cold of winter.
If you treated yourself to the Japanese import of How I Long..., you may encounter two bonus tracks, both surprisingly upbeat, perhaps jarringly so. The first, "My Honey," is an old-fashioned hoedown, complete with shuffled snare, harmonicas, a fiddle ensemble and McCartney-esque vocals that shout "Take it away, Richie!" It's fun, a little silly and somewhat misplaced. Gorky's are forgiven, though, because bonus tracks were made for indulgence.
The album proper ends on a particularly bittersweet note with the track "Hodgeston's Hallelujah." Almost an epilogue to our hero's thoughts, in which he looks back on his longings: "What happened to my dreams? When I woke up in the morning, seems like those old dreams were out to destroy me." He ultimately acquiesces and moves on, with a heartbreaking "Hallelujah." And as the final notes of the album left my headphones, I lifted my head from the steering wheel and looked around, squinting into the sunlight. The other cars had now disappeared; I was free to leave. And leave I did: I stepped out of the car onto the cold sidewalk, slammed the door shut, and began to walk. Hallelujah, indeed.