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Music Review: The Autumn Defense – The Autumn Defense

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The Autumn Defense continue their brand of breezy folk jams on their third and self-titled release. The outing finds the pair of John Stirratt and Patrick Sansone both honing and expanding their sound world to create a more layered record from their previous indie darling release, 2003's Circles.

A self-titled release in the middle of a discography usually indicates one of a couple of different things. The first is when a band has decided to change styles and is looking for a symbolic fresh start. The second, and perhaps more appropriate for The Autumn Defense, is that perhaps they finally feel comfortable enough in their niche to declare themselves to the world.

For several years now, The Autumn Defense has been a bit of a side project for both Stirratt and Sansone. Not in terms of quality or interest, but just in time and logistics. Both are full members of Wilco, their “day job”, which has its own priority in terms of touring and recording. Add to that the fact that, up until more recently, Sansone has been commuting (until finally moving to Chicago); writing, practicing, and touring have had to be more sporadic.

Things are a bit different now, as they're able to work in more close and frequent proximity. Because of this, developing a new album has become a more organic and consistent process. The band also notes that the ability to tour more and try out songs live has been valuable in helping to shape the recording process. The result is perhaps their most complete album to date.

The record alternates between a couple of dominant stylistic tendencies. The first is a breezy summer beach vibe. “Canyon Arrow” opens things up, with an upbeat jaunt that is more reminiscent of their first record, only this time accompanied by flute instead of horns. The pace slips into a more typical mid-tempo area with “Where You Are”, a strings-laden track complemented with some nice 60's era harpsichord and guitar. It all comes to a head on the slow groove-tastic jam of “Feel You Now.” Overall, there is a subtle injection of energy and liveliness throughout the record that was not as evident on Circles.

“Where You Are” introduces the other dominant style, which has more of a smoky lounge feel. And with songs like “City Bells” and “About To Change”, the group brings some of the low-lit basement venue vibe of their shows to a recording.

But don't think that they've abandoned their chilled nods towards the folk-pop of the 70's. The light pedal steel of “We Would Never Die” and the jangly romp of the album's closer, “Simple Explanation” offer a great balance to what is ultimately a more diverse, yet more rich, Autumn Defense experience.

The songwriting on this latest release is some of the duo's strongest. And the many support players on the record help to deliver a very smooth and satisfying album. Fans of the groups previous records will not be disappointed, and they're sure to continue their steady pace of adding new converts to the world of “the Autumn D”.

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