Hearts Of Palm
(Idaho Music)

Every genre has its A-list stars and also-rans, even the cultish and not especially competitive "slow-rock" movement. For every Low and Red House Painters, both of whom sport rabid fans and respective Gap commercials, many more comparatively unheralded bands play their languid, melancholy, restrained music in obscurity. Perhaps the most deserving of greater success is Idaho, the brainchild of singer-songwriter Jeff Martin. Martin's recorded output is a bit uneven, thanks in large part to an ever-changing supporting cast and fickle labels, but at its best, as on 1996's near-perfect pop-rock collection Three Sheets To The Wind, his music is both gently pretty and powerful. Idaho's recent Hearts Of Palm hasn't yet found a huge audience, in part due to its release on the mysterious "Idaho Music" label, but the album's best moments make it worth tracking down. The gloom of the lovely opening track, "To Be The One," is tempered by delicately orchestrated pianos and strings—reprised to chilling effect on the song's album-closing companion piece, "Under"—while the more pop-friendly title song builds to hooky and dramatic crescendos. From there, Hearts Of Palm periodically succumbs to dreariness (most notably on "Evolution Is Cold" and "Happy Times"), but it's never oppressive thanks to Martin's ability to make his brooding songs sparkle. Acetone shares a hometown (Los Angeles), an overriding tone (bleak), and level of fame (low) with Idaho, but the quality of its recordings is far more erratic. Injecting its generally slow-paced music with varying degrees of psychedelia and twang, its records have varied from the fairly conventional pop-rock of Cindy to the all-covers country EP I Think I Would. The new York Blvd. settles on likably shambling, lazily paced pop, but Acetone still hasn't quite cemented an identity for itself. The reason has a lot to do with the fact that, even at its most pleasantly languid ("Vibrato," "Bonds"), York Blvd. just isn't especially engaging. Idaho's continued residence on the fringes of the slow-pop landscape is hard to explain, but Acetone's isn't: After five albums and nearly 10 years, there still just isn't enough beauty or raw emotion to create a lasting bond.

(Idaho Music, P.O. Box 2509, Los Angeles, CA 90078)

—Stephen Thompson

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