Wednesday, November 9, 2011
All That the Rain Promises marks Bombadil's welcome return to the studio following their extended hiatus in 2009–2010. For those of us who have loved and evangelized their first three releases – Bomdadil EP (2006), A Buzz, A Buzz (2008), and Tarpits and Canyonlands (2009) – Promises provides yet another album’s worth of baroque ballads, neo-pub canons, and trapper keeper torch songs to keep us warm through the cold winter. Expect standout tracks such as the anthemic indie rocker “Laundromat” and the twilit “Short Side of the Wall” to begin popping up on “best of” lists and year-end mixtapes.
As beautifully crafted as it is, however, Promises gives the distinct impression of a band in transition. As you might reasonably expect of a band returning from a long and uncertain layoff, there are moments here when the talented four piece sounds somewhat unsure what to keep from their past work and what to let go. The overly nice “Flour Water Sugar,” for instance, initially recalls Tarpits’ “Kuala Lumpur” but never quite manages the latter’s romping descent into anarchic joy. So too the near-twee confessional “A Question” is the kind of musical meet-cute that the band should probably put behind them.
That said, Bombadil’s commitment to lighter fare has always worked to clear away emotional space so that their heavier material can hit with greater impact. Longtime listeners will think of Buzz’s “Three Saddest Words” or Tarpits’ “Matthew” as songs that are all the more devastating given the sweetness and light that surrounds them. Reviewers have rightly pointed to Bombadil’s impressive use of vocal dynamics to create depth
and space (the arranged vocal harmonies on Promises, as ever, are rich and surprising), but too few have noted this dynamism at work in their lyrical themes as well – an initial childlike wonder often lays the foundation for a later sobering heartbreak. In a departure from previous releases, however, Promises’ opener “I Will Wait” plays the part of the emotional heavy here. A beautifully spare hymn that calls out for spiritual strength and perfect understanding, “I Will Wait” challenges the listener with a raw humility and divine frustration not often found outside of John Donne’s holy sonnets. It’s an immediate call to attention and establishes a powerful theme for a collective that has been forced to confront – in a way that many others have not – their own musical mortality. All of which must make the rebirth that the rain promises seem all the sweeter. --Hidden Tiger
Bombadil will celebrate Promises with a release show this Saturday Nov. 12 at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC. The Future Kings of Nowhere and JKutchma open. 9 PM $12 advance/$15 door. tickets