Son Ambulance | Someone Else’s Déjà Vu (Saddle Creek)

cd_sonamb.jpgSomeone Else’s Déjà Vu, the third full-length platter from Son Ambulance, is no casual collection of tunes,







Some albums are more ambitious than others, that’s for sure. Someone Else’s Déjà Vu, the third full-length platter from Joseph Knapp and Jeffrey Koster who comprise the duo known as Son Ambulance, is no casual collection of tunes; instead, these guys aim to recapture the essence of the finest melancholy pop of the late ’60s and ’70s, while creating a sort of treatise on the very notion of being a young artistic type given to yearning introspection. There’s something about this album that really gets under your skin, and the more you’re prone to misty-eyed nostalgia, the deeper it burrows.

Let’s start by mentioning the longest song, "Yesterday Morning." Let’s imagine that you’re a college student in love with a girl who’s enrolled at a university far away, much to your disappointment. You’ve had the best times of your life with this girl, but you’re very unsettled, because you know she might grow apart from you. Channeling vibes from both Leonard Cohen and Simon & Garfunkel, Son Ambulance renders the emotion of this scenario perfectly here: "Did you get the pictures I left in your mailbox yesterday?/ I really wish I’d sent them much earlier, when you weren’t so far away/ I spoke to my advisors but I can’t decide what class to take/ And since you left for college, what can I teach you now, babe?" The vocal by Knapp is heartbreaking enough, front and center with its emotionality, but add the unexpected oboe contribution by Stuart Shell and you’ve got the sort of hauntingly sad classic that a lot of us remember all too well.

The press release is right on in its description of the magnificent "Legend of Lizeth" as being "equal parts Pink Floyd and Tommy James." The song begins as a ballad, serves up a lilting mid-section, then simply ascends to a plane of greatness with its stirring, vaguely psychedelic third act. There’s a sense of purity to Son Ambulance’s artful compositions that is beyond cynicism or formula; this is classic, old-time record-making by musicians who care. "Quand Tu Marches Seul" is another stunning ballad that features flawless secondary vocals from Jenna Morrison. You want evocative, you’ll find it in the lyrical imagery from this tune, where lines like "The fragrant, fresh-cut lawn/ The chlorinated swimming pool" and "We jumped the swaying fence…/ a dream to drift along" can’t help but resonate for anyone who grew up in suburbia during the ’60s and ’70s.

"Awakening" uses mellotron, vibraphone and other instruments to bathe the listener in vague, staring-out-the-window-style nostalgia; it really sounds like a song that’s lost in time somewhere. So does the gripping "Constellations," which features Knapp alone on acoustic guitar, evoking both Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake in the singularity and atmospheric sadness of his delivery.

But not everything on the disc is so intense. The opening "A Girl in New York City" is a sly, samba-flavored delight on which a police whistle is used as a rhythmic element, and both classical and electric guitars combine for a romantically enveloping vibe. And "Juliet’s Son" is an ear-pleasing soft pop song that conveys a nice sense of life moving forward at the same time it acknowledges the importance of self-reflection.

If you’re not the reflective type, this could be a rather heavy platter to get through. It encourages thinking about old friends, lost loves, the road not taken, the increasing complexity of life…all that stuff. But in every aspect of the sound—the upfront vocals, the evocative arrangements, the gauzy production—this album soars to amazing heights. "Now that you’ve come this far/ Can you accept who you are?" Knapp inquires in the aptly named "Horizons." It’s perhaps the key lyric on this album, a question this introspective band seem to be directing at themselves as well as anyone feeling a bit restless about the unpredictable path their lives have taken. A- | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Nick Drake, Big Star, The Real Tuesday Weld

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