Lambchop, Vic Chesnutt, and Bright Eyes collaborator Alex McManus' second record as The Bruces begins with an atonal acoustic guitar riff that slowly reveals itself as being decidedly memorable. That sentiment works for much of The Shining Path, a wide corn field of a record that grows before your ears with each repeated listen. McManus spins elegant tales firmly planted in the Midwest and rooted in Northern imagery.
Wrapped in banjos, mandolins, accordions, and anything else with a few strings or rusty keys, songs like "Beautiful Slanted Northern Light," which wouldn't have seemed out of place on Led Zeppelin III, come in like a cold front that blew in with the rain. Vocally, McManus' throaty cadence is like a combination of Michael Stipe and the Pinetop Seven's Darren Richard fronting Big Star, and the tendency to rise up or slide down to the note makes for an effective focal point amidst the serpentine arrangements. There's a lazy and amiable quality to tracks like "Far East Sweet" and "Fine Solutions" that belie the recording's murky atmospherics.
There's a subtle undercurrent of dread that lurks beneath The Shining Path, and it takes a few spins to come to fruition. That a record can convey emotion so taut with impending ferocity is a rare thing indeed, and The Bruces are more than adept at keeping the tension solidly mounted. Like a green wall of clouds that may or may not contain an F4 tornado, the listener is constantly checking the radar for further updates.
1. The Electric Halo
2. Beautiful Slanted Northern Light
3. Add It On
4. Pilot Light
5. Far East Sweet
6. My Nerviosa
7. Fine Solutions
8. What Do You Know About Home
10. The Shining Path
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