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Roger Harvey – Two Coyotes (Chunksaah)

Roger Harvey-Two Coyotes
16 February 2018

Like former Avail frontman-turned-acoustic folkie Tim Barry, well-traveled, Philadelphia-based (by way of Pittsburgh, where he fronted the punk band White Wives; he’s also lived in NYC, Europe, and California) Harvey makes mellower music than most of Asbury Park, NJ punk label Chunksaah’s strident, speedier playing signees. But while he may not crank out mile-a-minute mashers, his moderately tempoed folk-rock is plenty resonant and robust. The fuzz-tinged, horn-speckled pop of his 2015 debut LP Twelve Houses duly drew comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel and Bright Eyes; on this more focused and finely-honed follow-up, his speculative and sighing voice alternately brings to mind Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, and Villagers’ Conor O’Brien. Recorded at Ronnie’s Place Studio on Music Row in Nashville, and featuring Rozwell Kid guitarist Adam Meisterhans and Strand of Oaks drummer Mike Steeringer, Two polishes up the production and adds a more pastoral, plaintive feel than its predecessor, without sacrificing any of its potency. For example, the opening “Holidays” offsets Harvey’s relaxed, ringing acoustic with a dense, Death Cab-esque electric rock crunch, while the atmospheric “White Dress,” whose spacious, squealing guitars are underpinned by a one-note plinking piano, recalls Radiohead circa The Bends.

“Holidays” acts as a succinct, “how I got here”-like statement of purpose, on which a nostalgic Harvey vividly recaps his nomadic life, from his confidence-sapping and confining childhood and public school years – he grew up in a small farm town outside Erie, PA – to his aimless, amorous, and drug-addled young adult days (resulting in a prison stint, the song hints) following his move to a big city. Then, beginning with “White,” and continuing on the sumptuous, violin-shaded title track and steel guitar-saturated “When the Lights Come Up,” Harvey touches on the three themes that consume him for the remainder of the album: loneliness, alienation, and his longing for a lost love. In particular, “When,” which finds him spending his evenings wandering the streets in silence, sums up his feeling of despondency: “It’s like there’s nothing left for anyone to hold/And it’s a shame what we have traded that in for.” Elsewhere, on alluring anthems “Love in the Digital Age” and “Full Moon,” he examines whether this isolation and disconnection are worsened by “what we have traded that in for,” namely an obsession with technology and social media. This fuels a constant “quest for affirmation,” as he sings on “Full,” making us feel more alone. On the same song, he anxiously asks: “As we fry on entertainment with all the critical acclaim/Modern culture is the vacuum but are we really entertained?” Thankfully, Two is a distraction that won’t turn your brain into tinder; it’s thoughtful and tranquilizing. (,