* * * *
BEST IN THE WEST
Handshake’s new lineup, featuring Sam Forester on bass, does to the Marin band on “Narcissus” what the Ty Segall Band did to its titular mastermind’s sound on Slaughterhouse, or what the two-drummer lineup of Thee Oh Sees did to John Dwyer’s sound. It’s the sound of something coming together. Never has any Handshake recording sounded this together, with each of the instruments taking on their own distinct personality rather than blending indeterminably, as they did on Handshake’s slightly disappointing Sleeping, Snarling. Forester’s bass is a monster, the guitars echo like a horn section, and the voices seem to flicker into the song between moments of silence, the aural equivalent of walking along a fence and watching scenery flash behind the fenceposts. Essentially a hard rock song, “Narcissus” has none of the intimate, in-the-room-with-the-band feel of Handshake’s early singles--this is a song built for playing live, built for venues or even arenas. If Sleeping, Snarling felt like a refinement of the sound on earlier Handshake singles, “Narcissus” feels like a leap forward.
* * *
On their self-titled EP from last year, the post-Audiophiles project of Jeremy Lyon and Zak Mandel-Romann offered a nifty take on the sort of music that might have been referred to as “rock n’ soul” in the late Sixties, beefing it up with contemporary alternative rock influences. A few of those songs crop up here, albeit reworked, and they’re the best moments on the album (The So Long version of “Take It Back,” a solo cut by band member Lyon that has now been reworked twice by Tumbleweed Wanderers, is excellent.) Yet for the bulk of this album, the band slogs through music that wouldn’t be out of place at a Golden Gate Bridge anniversary concert, all banjos and organ solos and country-and-western harmonies with almost nothing to make it preferable or even choosable over its influences. Of the tunes new to So Long, the best is “Freedom Town,” an atmospheric cut with a chugging, into-the-horizon groove.