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Trace Mountains - HOUSE OF CONFUSION Music Album Reviews

Trace Mountains - HOUSE OF CONFUSION Music Album Reviews
On his latest album of country-influenced indie rock, Dave Benton takes surprising, subtle turns in songs of indecision, introspection, and alienation.

HOUSE OF CONFUSION, the third studio album from Trace Mountains, is the fruit of joblessness. After being laid off from his position at a warehouse, primary songwriter Dave Benton, formerly of LVL UP, continued to rise early, devoting his morning hours to writing songs and practicing guitar. His latest album is a tribute to the transience of the past year, a tattooed heart enclosing the word “uncertainty.”

In the time that Benton might have spent touring behind 2020’s warmly received Lost in the Country, he instead traveled “on the road in my mind.” He’s at his happiest imagining the freedom of a rural highway, and at his very lowest on the sad, stunning “LATE.” “The city makes you nervous,” he sings—and so do the synths, interrupting the record’s earthy acoustic and pedal steel guitars with eerie artificiality. The moon, a friend on many tracks, here casts “cruel, sharp” light; the sun, by contrast, is “stark,” casting “dark, long shadows” down a city street during a miserable run for coffee. It’s as though his proximity to the modern world is leeching his spirit, making him anxious and paranoid. By the next track, “AMERICA,” he escapes, driving alone beneath a starry sky. The darkness that menaced him back in the city is a comfort now, welcoming and shielding him.

There’s a thrilling indecision in many of these songs. “I can’t be your friend,” he sings on one track, and then on the next, “You and I, we’re always friends, though.” In the sweet ballad “EYES ON THE ROAD,” home to one of the year’s greatest bridges, Benton calls the person in the driver’s seat “Daddy,” and then “buddy,” and then “honey.” He’ll take a risk in one line and then leap back, protecting himself in the next. You are left unsure exactly where he’ll come down; he doesn’t seem to know, either.

He plays a clever trick on “MORNINGSTAR”: Slow, droning guitars stretch like saltwater taffy across the lyrics about being “gone a while,” driving down “a “long, dark mile.” And then he sings the phrase “checking my phone,” and the instrumentation suddenly becomes staccato and fragmented, the same way the mere fact of having a phone in your hand can shift your attention. It’s a gorgeous, subtle move.

The full-band arrangements offer a compelling mirror to Benton’s inward-facing lyrics: His accompanists provide rich pillows for his fragile songs to rest in. Drummer Greg Rutkin, also formerly of LVL UP, spreads a low fog of cymbals over the opening and closing tracks. Drops of what sounds like a xylophone drift into the mix like motes of dust in morning light. Listening to the album end to end is like closing a loop, or drifting off to sleep and then waking again, finding that the shadows have shifted around you.

Benton may have written HOUSE OF CONFUSION in isolation, but it’s clear he yearns for connection. His choruses were built for campfire-style singalongs; his arrangements will echo to the very furthest, darkest corners of crowded venues. “The hardest part,” he sings, in the closing moments of this album, “is over now.” Listening to these generous, openhearted songs, it’s easy to believe him.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Trace Mountains - HOUSE OF CONFUSION Music Album Reviews Trace Mountains - HOUSE OF CONFUSION Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, November 11, 2021 Rating: 5

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