Unthinkingly, I didn't save Robert Ray's response to what could only be called
a fan letter, and I don't recall exactly what the former co-leader of
the Vulgar Boatmen wrote. But I know why I wrote him. First I met someone,
and then a copy of a mix tape containing the Vulgar Boatmen's "Heartbeat" opened
me up perfectly, adult emotion as intimate undercurrent for what could
only be called a pop song. While completists will elbow in here to say
how The Gizmos' version, the original one written by Boatmen co-founder
Dale Lawrence, before he was a Boatman, is the more crucial recording,
rhyming "beatin'" and "needin'" with a let's-go count... well, not so
for me. I haven't listened to that tape or talked to that person since
forever, but Hesitation Eyes, with backlit associations including
the remembered warmth of the Boatmen, is one of the most meaningful departures
from the rock show I've heard in a while. It's an album that makes me
feel the way I felt way back when.
The smart, Pavement-like lumping together of love and outdoor sports with what it feels like to be the one willing for one last try might be just what you expect from a band called The Foxymorons but Hesitation Eyes is no laconic try-on. Instead, long-distance collaborators Jerry James and David Dewese are so unassuming in their affections that it all sounds instantly right. Anyone who enjoys music knows what a rarity it is to find a longplayer where every song hits its mark. And, of course, there probably is no more subjective balloon to loft in a music review. But Hesitation Eyes is more than deserving (even if the Foxymorons are quiet about it).
Previously James and Dewese have had fun with their proud Texas roots (as well
as Big Star infatuation) with a now-out-of-print 2001 full-length called Rodeo
City, recorded by Centro-matic's Matt Pence. With Hesitation Eyes the
pop sensibility is equally inherent, but with more subtly drawn lines (here Pence
does the mixing). Power pop is less evident (though still present
in Dewese's rouser "Terror on the Tarmac") in favor of some Wilco-style loose-limbed
electronics heard on "A Magazine Called Sunset." There is some whirring, some
clicking, but they don't take away from the twilight moments or the gloried,
tamped-down "Good Vibrations" back-up heard on "Just Because," where the past
can't be rearranged and it would hurt even more if somehow it could.
I like how easy Hesitation Eyes sounds, James' slightly ragged, plaintive
vocals perfect for the slim, flinching cadence of "Harvard Hands": "The spring
is when this firm recruits/ I'll polish off my navy suit/ I can set your pulse
to rest/ I love you though I'm second best." It lopes like any one of the best
early Pavement songs, and you don't even care that someone else's prints are
all over it. It only impresses that intelligent slack hasn't lost its appeal
and that James is no mere stand-in. Meanwhile, Dewese is the more Dando of the
two, with the smoothed-out delivery of the onetime Lemonheads' frontman or a
less breaking Lou Barlow. Not surprisingly, Dewese also plays in the
Luxury Liners, the full-frontal pop machine that The Foxymorons are not. And
that isn't a bad thing either.
The sound of "The Lazy Librarian's Son" conveys so much feeling that most of Dewese's words seem beside the point, save for lines such as these: "It might take a while to realize/ But I'm telling you with regretful eyes/ Hold on to what you've come to find/ As boring and ordinary."
That James and Dewese aren't of the same pop mind is what makes The Foxymorons so attractive. That they telegraph their hits into each other's answering machines and mailboxes isn't so much a novelty but what affords the music some banjo, soft piano, revving power chords and pure harmonies its identity. With any luck the attention they're currently getting including a "Band of the Day" mention on Spin.com will keep The Foxymorons from slipping into the same obscurity as other thoughtful lo-fi interpreters the Mysteries of Life or Sleepyhead (to name just two). Hesitation Eyes is winning in its ease and reflection favorite records, better-spent afternoons, and how life bends you but doesn't break you. Not so simple after all.