APRIL 1996


Three Sheets to the Wind


From the way Idaho’s front man Jeff Martin sings, you’d think he’d just had a good cry before stepping to the microphone. His foggy baritone quivers, breaks, and strains for high notes as he slurs his somber lyrics. “I watch the sun go out” is the first line of “Shame,” joining other choice phrases like “Thirty years are gone” and “Late December is what I’m feeling.” Even when the band cranks the amps and blasts off, as on “Catapult” or “Pomegranate Bleeding,” they sound deeply unhappy.


Why doesn’t all this weepiness get annoying? Partly due to Martin’s sincerity, but mainly because of his musical savvy. Writing on a four-string guitar in a variety of odd tunings, he conjures dancing melodies that always feature at least one clever twist. He’s also got a brilliant chordal sense, favoring close intervals like major and minor seconds and juxtaposing chords in surprising ways. Take the beginning of “Get You Back”—Db-maj7&5-Absus2-Bbmaj9; not the most common chords, certainly not a standard progression. Or check out the album’s centerpiece, “No One’s Watching,” as Martin and guitarist Dan Seta refrain from playing full chords for nearly the whole song, choosing instead to establish an F# drone. Meanwhile, Terrence Borden’s bass traces around the key signature, starting on the fifth, resting tantalizingly on the third, taking four full measures before finally joining the guitarists. It’s a short meeting, though, and Borden’s soon off again on his own harmonic path.


Fine as Idaho’s previous two albums were, Three Sheets to the Wind sounds warmer, more expansive. Maybe it’s because there’s a real group involved (in the past, Martin pretty much was the band). Whatever the reason, songs like “Stare at the Sky” and “A Sound Awake” boast a grandeur only hinted at before. Music doesn’t come much sadder than this, or much prettier.

Mac Randall