There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Golden Smog is a Midwestern semisupergroup comprised of members of more-or-less roots-rock bands including Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, and Wilco, most of whom contribute and sing their own songs, and each of whom, for contractual reasons, performs under a name assembled from his middle name and the street he grew up on (e.g., Soul Asylum’s Dan Murphy becomes “David Spear”). Sad to say, this device creates a party game more compelling than the band’s new album. The problem is not stylistic incoherence; given the variety of songwriters and singers the Golden Smog employs, the result sounds like the Jayhawks with surprising consistency (the ‘Hawks’ Gary Louris seems to be the Smog’s guiding force, despite co-writing only three of the disc’s 12 originals). Sounding like the Jayhawks isn’t a bad thing per se, but the dispersion of points of view on Mainstream prevents the record from ever coming into emotional focus the way the Jayhawks’ own intimate records sometimes do. The mid-to-downtempo ballads Mark Olson supplies for the ‘Hawks are replaced here by comparable tunes by Run Westy Run’s Kraig Johnson, but such songs need to gain momentum to have any force, and the Smog’s rotating voices prevent this accumulation from happening. The uptempo tunes work better; Louris’ “V” and Murphy’s “Red Headed Stepchild” are the album’s strongest cuts, and Johnson’s “Friend,” which starts and finishes as an introspective ballad, has a Beatlesque midsection that makes the listener wish the band rocked harder more often. CP