With its low-key balladry and lo-fi tenderness evoking dappled pages from Neil
Young's audio journal, Snow Tires does for Unbunny frontman Jarid
del Deo what There's Nothing Wrong With Love did
for Built to Spill's Doug Martsch. The latter talked without nostalgia of stepfathers,
Bowie and starry roadtrips without a specific destination (plangent guitar throughout). Snow
Tires, Unbunny's fifth release, is similarly inclined, finding del Deo ambling
through trailer courts where the night is lit by fires kindled in rusty, oversized
Unbunny (del Deo and his somewhat interchangeable collective) are eloquently aligned with such contemporary artists as Sufjan Stevens, Samuel Beam of Iron & Wine, and even The Shins' James Mercer. While they may appear to be an aptly timed entry, Unbunny have been recording (and releasing) music since 1995 on a scattering of small labels. They had a brief phase as Nervous Plants, releasing a split seven-inch that featured "Mandi," easily one of the most unprotected pleas ever recorded: "Sending you Superchunk on a tape full of songs/ It'll blow you away with content and form/ It's got all the guitar parts in all the right places/ I swear that the songs were written about us." This shy-cool mash note exemplifies where del Deo's heart lies (and what inspires his unguarded songwriting).
Snow Tires, much like the previous full-length Black Strawberries,
is drowsy country-rock guitar with twinklings of orchestral pop, its spare poignancy
touching the soul. Paul Chastain brings his appreciable pop resume, joining musicians
like Roy Ewing (Braid / Very Secretary) and Velvet Crush bandmate Adam Schmitt,
who assisted in the record's mastering. Despite its songs' hazy wandering style, Snow
Tires feels well thought out. If the songs fade into each other rather than
firmly stopping and beginning anew, it is by agreement. Snow Tires holds
the memory of something that's painful, a loaded-car departure that hasn't yet
posted enough distance, and the vocals do little to belie this feeling. Neil
Young is the easiest grab, of course, but del Deo sounds like a reedier version
of the Built to Spill frontman as well, enveloping each song in wistful delivery.
The rending "Nightwalking" sifts what's left of a deadened relationship, disintegrated
or just about there: "I've been known to walk at night/ Where streetlights end
and dark begins/ And lately I've been occupied with things I should have left
behind/ All my shortfalls notwithstanding I could give a lot to you." "FM" amplifies
the ache with a children's-choir intro (just like Smog did to cool effect), keyboards
glittering like Christmas chimes and a floating electric-guitar solo. "All-night
jockey come and save me from the quiet," del Deo whispers into the dark.
A golden return to the confessional tradition, Snow Tires is honest and moving. Lilting in a lo-fi way, Jarid del Deo is so human in his plaint. Holiday lights can no longer save him. Walking the winter streets in the title track, he and a friend pass his ex's car. All he can manage is, "There’s my ex-girlfriend's car." Unbunny want us to understand and, of course, we do.