Portland-scene staples create another modern folk-rock soundtrack for self-reflection
Dolorean may have left longtime label Yep Roc behind, but with its new record’s dreamy violin brushstrokes, classical-tinged piano lines, hushed drumming and singer/guitarist Al James’ weary sigh of a voice, the introspective band is still making some of the most honest, understated indie rock this side of Sun Kil Moon. Part of the key is that when James takes those long, hard looks in the rearview mirror, he manages to forgive his shortcomings while never sugar coating the way things went down. “I lied when we met,” he sings on “Sweet Boy.” “It was an honest mistake / I said I could wait for your past to fade away / I had no idea what I was talking about.”
Dolorean’s longing-filled music is not only an able vehicle for James’ meditations on his own life; it’s an effective self-examination soundtrack for listeners, too. In the week leading up to my initial listen of The Unfazed, I’d been snowed in as sheet upon sheet of ice piled up outside—something Atlantans like myself are not particularly good at coping with. The ensuing combination of isolation and freezing temperatures, plus the steady stream of Twin Peaks episodes I was watching forced me into an intense bout of reflection. I wish I’d had this record then—it would’ve come in handy.
A few moments ago, while scribbling down my final thoughts on The Unfazed in the bitter cold of my uninsulated bedroom, bathed in the dim light of cloud-grey skies, I saw a flitter of color out of the corner of my eye and glanced out the window. There, perched on the branch of a Magnolia tree, was a brilliant red cardinal. I couldn’t dream a finer metaphor for this record; The Unfazed is the sonic equivalent of that first flower breaking through the still-melting winter snow, softly yet starkly hinting at the coming warmth and renewal of spring.