The New Amsterdams

Story Like a Scar (Vagrant Records)
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Posted June 7, 2006 by Listen Up in Music

Before launching The New Amsterdams six years ago, Matt Pryor fronted the Get Up Kids, an almost-famous indie-rock manufacturer that recently shuttered its hometown Midwestern headquarters. The primary reason for the split: Total misanthropes, the Kids evidently talked business only after downing gallons of booze. The parting was neither sweet nor sorrowful.

Pryor doesn’t mention the Kids by name anywhere on the New Ams’ fifth full-length, Story Like a Scar. But the bratty, boogying “Bad Liar” is clearly the least ambiguous manifestation of his looking back, for real and for good. Searching the attic of his mind, Pryor finds not the moral high ground but a cruel mirror. “Let’s call it off and take the memories and run,” he asserts in his rusty, nasally yawn. “I’ll be the villain / The man with the smoking gun.”

Into redemption-by-roots-rock typically figures homespun poetry, flannel tones, and acoustic instruments (lots of ’em), and Scar eagerly hews to tradition. As dark Nebraska soil spills slowly into “The Death of Us,” a young Springsteen presides, praying both for the deceased and the safe return of his harmonica riffs. “Turn Out the Light” also drops on bended knee to reckon the distance between steeple and sky. Across rowdy hand claps, hardwood-floor stompin’, and the lonesome echo of six flickering strings, a tinny backing moan waltzes with Pryor’s gossamer vox, the impasto not amazing but graceful: “I’ve been wrong,” he sings. “But it’s all right … I was lost / ’Til I found you.”

And what would any native Kansan’s “alternative” music be without the foil of Christian fundamentalism? Public schools in the Jayhawk State just became the first to incorporate creationism into biology classes. Named after right-wing zealots’ anti-evolution anti-theory, “Intelligent Design” sees Pryor’s two cents clang angrily together for about a minute before folding neatly back into his pocket. A few tracks later, the deeply resonant, twinkling, Middle Eastern-ish guitar that charms the pants off “A Small Crusade” is one big flip o’ the bird.

 


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