It begins with the dry, uneven rumble of a bass drum. It’s a simple sound, uncompressed and clear. Years ago, the drum was probably covered in bright colors, but the paint is all faded now. You could sit there all day listening to that bass drum.
La Strada hail from New York, but adapt what they call old-world instrumentation (meaning accordion and strings) to their laid-back folk songs. The result lies somewhere between a sea chanty and a Beirut song, but it is some of the best folk-pop music this side of The Decemberists.
The songs are carnival-esque at times, majestic at others, and mostly addictive. Mostly. Opener “Orphan” with its lullaby tempo and saccharine lyrics “Wake up, you silly / Shake your sleepy head,” is a little too pretty, a little too cute. But this artificial sweetness is cut short by the salty wheeze of the accordion on the anthemic “Sun Song”, which escalates into a march while lead vocalist James Craft’s fragile tones climb higher, summitting on the glorious sentence every teenager in America longs to hear: “You’re 21!” This is where the real meat of the record lies: in La Strada’s talent for melody, their odd sense of humor, and their ability to surprise.