Tom Levin - Them Feet
2014, Cut The Mustard
Tom Levin just keeps rolling. After an accidental fall into a musical career that involves a shower concert and an exchange student program, Levin has led something of a charmed life. His first band, Tennis, scored a top-10 single in his native Sweden in 1996 with “Shyway”. Levin was just getting started however. In the intervening years he has dropped six solo albums, showing steady growth as a songwriter and performer while continuing to refine his stage presence and his craft. Levin’s latest effort, Them Buffalo is something of a companion album to his January, 2014 release, Them Feet. Steeped in stripped down rock and Americana styling, Levin reveals himself to be a master story teller with a deep understanding of melodic nuance and rhyme.
Them Buffalo opens with “Thunder On”, something of a musical bridge from Them Feet. The opener is a sharp and catchy rock and roll song with country flavor. Levin’s voice is not a purist’s voice. It’s full of rough edges and color and has an almost talk-sing sway to it at times, but he wields his voice like a finely tuned instrument, injecting personality and presence like a grand showman where the lines thin. The result is a captivating sound that leaves fans and critics alike captivated and willing to listen long into the night. “Mind’s Eye” opens in the style of an aboriginal tribal chant, and becomes a Utopian paean that’s catchy and well-written. Wrapped up in the song’s core is an element of faith; a theme that recurs often through Them Buffalo in different forms. “Everyday” is about finding your way by paying attention to the little things. Questions of right and wrong swirl around the edges of this song; not in a judgmental way, but in the form of diving next steps. The song has an earthy and urgent feel that is brilliantly understated and full of a primitive beauty.
“History, Beliefs and Bearded Men” takes on the concept of right and wrong between religious cultures from a very personal perspective. The ancient argument between absolutism and relative truths wage quietly here, with Levin opting for an informed conscious to make out the difference in all of us. In truth, there is a fatalism here that is appealing. Levin doesn’t seem to be eschewing any side of the argument, in the end. Opting for the sense that nobody really knows, so let’s all do the best we can. This is a pensive number that’s prayerful in attitude and hopeful in heart. It sets the stage well for “Different Drum”, a paean to being you no matter what. The swaying rock anthem is typically understated but somehow more powerful for it.
When it comes to love songs, the genre is thoroughly overdone. Some overdo, some try to almost make fun of the genre. Levin bypasses it entirely in recreating it for a new age. In “More Than A Song”, Levin uses the ancient art form to decry its insufficiencies while delivering a message of deep love and intellect all at once. It’s a thing of beauty that bypasses syrup but sticks to you nonetheless. Levin engages in affectionately humorous misdirection on “Girl From Nova Scotia”, a tribute to Canadian songstress Mo Kenney. If you’re not listening carefully (I honestly wasn’t the first time it played) you’ll think Levin’s engaging in vitriol, but there’s a deep admiration in the line “I hate you in a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful way.” The underlying theme here is the mix of admiration and jealousy an artist might feel in hearing another artist create beauty. It’s real and honest and powerfully alive.
Levin heads for home with “Schizo”, “Summered” and “Margaret’s House”. The first delves into the push and pull of different parts of a personality. There’s a bit of Randy Newman-style self-parody here, alongside Tom Wait’s biting poetry. “Summered” is probably my least favorite track on the album; That is to say it’s really well-written, but perhaps just a bit out of place with this cycle of songs. Levin bows with “Margaret’s House”, with the help of vocalist Aimee Bobruk, whose dulcet voice is a perfect blend to Levin’s understated drama. This pensive duet is full of a quiet reverie, and is the perfect annotation for an album steeped in thought, wisdom and the slow wearing of time on memory.
Tom Levin continues to grow into his prodigious talent as a songwriter and performer. It’s hard to say if he’s approaching a zenith or continuing a long slow build to something even more renowned, but the fact that he has hit new heights is inescapable. In spite of several releases from artists I absolutely love in 2014, it is not stretching the point to say that Tom Levin’s Them Buffalo is the finest album I have heard in 2014. You will be hard pressed to disagree.
Learn more at www.tomlevin.com.