Country flavored indie-folk is a growing genre that has sparked great releases from artists such as Midlake and Great Lake Swimmers, among many others. Newcomers Amateurs can now be added to that list as well. This Los Angles-based group began making music back in 2004, when Keith Waggoner (guitar/vocals) and Stephen Garver (drums) began cranking out self-produced demos.
Fast forward to 2007, where the duo has grown into a four piece, adding Shannon De Jong (violin) and Anthony Puglisi (guitar) to the lineup. With the help of David Trumfio (Wilco, Grandaddy), Amateurs have created a strong debut LP filled with '70s a.m. radio melodies mixed with warm, organic arrangements that add depth to their sprawling, laid back material.
Speak Easy begins with the twangy "Omaha Nights," one of the poppier moments on the album. The bass gives off that '70s vibe, bringing Fleetwood Mac instantly to mind. It is easy to find yourself nodding along to this one, which easily flows into "Atlantis." The country subtlety gets pushed aside by just a bit of T Rex, especially in the vocals of Waggoner. The music holds back for most of this track, only kicking in with a steady thumping beat towards the end. What keeps it interesting is the soaring strings of Jong, adding just enough color to keep my ears intrigued.
"Cigarettes" is one of the standouts on the album, allowing Jong's strings to take center stage. The layered violins are surrounded by the steady pulse of sleigh bells and a kick drum, weaving in and out of the plucking of an acoustic guitar. It is a really lush instrumental, making for a nice segue into "Spectacular Fall." The tempo stays the same going from the cinematic instrumental to this sprawling track, up until the halfway point when the beat kicks in.
Amateurs are much more about creating soundscapes than many of their indie-folk peers. They offer a nice balance of accessible '70s countrified a.m. radio rock with their other more sonically ambitious tracks. With a debut LP this strong, I don't expect to see them unsigned for much longer.