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MP3 Subject Bias - and this is why we can't have nice things

sounds like elliott smith and bright eyes with strings, horns, and female harmony

14 MP3 Songs
ROCK: Emo, ROCK: Acoustic


Subject Bias explains, And This Is Why You Can’t Have Nice Things
Portland Phoenix Review

For all his strengths as a songwriter, it’s Kevin Ouellette’s talent for finding excellent musicians to work with that really impresses. Rather than put together a steady band to “be” Subject Bias, which releases And This Is Why You Can’t Have Nice Things October 13, frontman Ouellette for each of three albums now has simply recruited musicians he respects to lay down tracks and shape the sound he has mapped out in his brain.

For the somewhat-uneven, but promising, Average Potential, he mined Seacoast veterans like Andy Happel (Thanks to Gravity) and Dan Blakeslee. On the breakout It Takes One to Know One, Ouellette gathered Kevin Kennie (Headstart!), Jason Marshall (Eldemur Krimm), and Katherine Albee (the Popsicko, the Awesome) from the Portland scene into which he’d crossed over. Now, with his third full-length Subject Bias is infused with the whisper and hush created by the talented members of Tree By Leaf, Katrina Abramo, and a number of horn and string players (Ouellette apparently moving farther north for musical partners with each album, as TBL hail from the Midcoast).

Good taste is at least half of good songwriting, so you should have a feeling for the new album just by seeing the credits. Abramo’s vocals are a haunting pair for Ouellette’s introspective bent from the get-go, joining in the intimate “Slightest Twist” over a simple downstroke-only guitar strum. Ouellette pens here a morbid thought: “What do you think/ When you’re driving in your car/ With the slightest twist of your wrist/ This could all be over.”

There’s plenty of Elliot Smith influence, as on previous albums, but it’s also clear Ouellette really dug that last Tree by Leaf album, and he’s mining similar material to what Ray LaMontagne and Ethan Johns just released. Sounds from the basic building blocks of guitar and vocals build and are augmented by cello or trumpet or violins. Instruments fall away for emphasis, enter with poignancy, or, in “North Carolina,” create an unexpected cowboy swagger.

Subject Bias’ arrangements have improved considerably here, and Ouellette’s vocals are more confident and consistent, but it’s the presence of a song like “Hate the Sinner” that ought to get you fairly excited about this album on the first listen.

It opens like Billy Bragg and Wilco, a quick strum with a smirk, and is supported by TBL’s Sirii Soucy on backing vocals and Kristen Miller on a somber cello. Ouellette is gut-wrenching, a plea for help mixed in his voice with desire to kick you in the shins. “Jesus Christ, himself, must be,” he sings, “So goddamn impressed/ Knowing you can see his light clearer than the rest.”

The second verse finishes with Ouellette entreating the object of his mixed affection and disdain, “Please remember I love you/ But staring straight into a light” — and he pauses here with a great feel for the punchline — “Can fuck with you.”

From there, the Stray Cat strut that follows in “Like Lovers Do” is a yank onto the dance floor, a real stomp with trumpet popping throughout. Here the vocals are mic’d at a bit of a distance, like Ouellette is having an out-of-body experience.

A rocker in the bank, Subject Bias now have license to do some moping and they use it, copping Carey Brothers and My Bloody Valentine along the way. The lyrics are smart, the playing is enjoyable and interesting, and everything just feels meaningful and important, like you’re listening to 13 eulogies and best man speeches.

Ouellette yet again bares his soul here, but it’s never sounded this good.

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