Since Idaho’s debut disc in 1993, leader Jeff Martin has been a one-man show. Alone in the studio with the tape rolling, Martin often conjures a lovely, devastating starkness. Perhaps he echoed the loneliness of a man without a band, the sole purveyor of a groove so blue, so choked up he could scarcely share it with anyone. For Three Sheets..., though, Martin loosened up and finally hired a band. He still monopolizes the Idaho sound, handling voice, keys and guitar, but now he utilizes the diverse sensibilities of a band dynamic to achieve his profound melancholia.
Though the Idaho sound is a delicately crafted one, Martin and company handle it roughly here, as if cracking a tune in two with a harsh strain of feedback or an off key vocal is good for it. As a singer, Martin cuts across the quiet grain of his songs like an indie rock Chet Baker. As a guitarist he checks in with frequent minor chords, and his occasional acoustic shimmer is reminiscent of Nick Drake. Occasionally, as on “Alive Again,” Martin captures the lyrical angst of late-period American Music Club.
In light of all of these (favorable) comparisons, Idaho still manages to sound very much like Idaho. The tasteful string arrangement on “Glass Bottom” nearly weeps with sadness, and you can sense Martin profound loneliness on tracks like “Staring At The Sky” and “Shame.” The only difference is that now the bandleader shares that isolation with a band, making the experience of listening to Three Sheets... simultaneously lovely and despondent, uplifting and heartsick.