In this day and age, there is something totally punk-rock about giving your band an un-Googleable name like Company. And with an album title like Dear America, some listeners are no doubt expecting a collection of screeds against capitalism and elegies for the American Dream.
But Charleston-based singer/guitarist Brian Hannon is not an angry person, and his latest album is not a political one; for the most part, it is intensely personal. His band of studio-musician buddies at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville sounds like Weezer in a good year, and his voice is humbly operatic, like a subtler Rufus Wainwright. Instrumentally, he and his colleagues make liberal use of the soft-loud-soft template, alternating between straight-ahead power chords and reverb-heavy verses.
A gentle melancholy hangs over the whole album, from the define-the-relationship anthem "Show Me You Really Want Me" to the acoustic confessional "Bound to Drop the Ball." A minimalist lyrical approach on the song "Something About You" produces a hypnotic effect as Hannon sings again and again, "There is something about you that is wrong/There is something about me that you'll never know." This is set to the tune of a bouncy Shins-style jangle, which builds toward a haunting mediation on the phrase "Now everybody's dead," which floats dolefully over the mix.
Nowhere is the sense of loss more palpable than on album closer "Dreams," an ode to regret and sleeping alone. "I know I have to let go," Hannon sings, but then the guitars kick in, propelling him into another ecstatic vision. When Hannon sings about his dreams, impossible alternate histories of a relationship gone awry, we know that they are tearing him apart.
There is one political moment on Dear America, actually, and it comes on the title track. "Dear America, stay wasted," Hannon sings in the chorus, "Throw your credit cards in the air." Fittingly, Occupy Charleston used the song as a backdrop to a promotional video in April. Coupled with shaky footage of all those protesters getting arrested in Marion Square during the week of Thanksgiving, the song is being used to evoke sympathy, even from critics of the oft-maligned movement. These are the recession blues. This is the sound of young zeal beaten down. As Hannon says, "Do you really think we were waiting/For the walls to come tumbling down?" (exitstencil.org/company.php)
Company plays a CD release show at the Tin Roof on Sat. June 16.