Make It Worse


Don't You Hate Pants?, 2008

REVIEW BY: Julia Skochko


Seattle's got grunge.  London's got Britpop.  Even New Zealand has something called "Dunedin Sound" (sadly, it doesn't involve didgeridoo-playing koalas).

But what about Lancaster?  This scrappy Pennsylvania burg has birthed James Buchanan and marshmallow Peeps, but sadly, no signature sound. With their debut Make It Worse, Slimfit might just change that.

Lancaster's a city in the middle, wedged between Appalachia and Philadelphia, influenced by both.  Factories and farms struggle side-by-side.  Tricked-out Camaros whiz past horse-drawn buggies.  Slimfit's music is as diverse as their hometown, cobbled together from country, bluegrass, Southern rock, and mountain folk.  Make It Worse evokes everyone from Whiskeytown to the Replacements.  The one constant is the group's respect for their roots.  Yeah, music's a loftier career choice than the turkey-processing plant, but this album's still undeniably honest.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The opener, "Midnight Blues," is a great example of how the group shines -- not by reinventing the tractor, but by giving it a fresh set of racing stripes.  Its folksy country gains depth and nuance from a mournful viola and cello.  The group's lyrical strength is also immediately apparent.  Their songwriting is plainspoken but never trite, no mean feat in the Post-Garth Epoch.  The tales are as old as time (dashed hopes, dying towns, evil-hearted women), but they're told with originality and simplicity.

Make It Worse is musically genuine as well.  The title track is straight banjo-picking bluegrass, an unironic love note to rural music.  Tracks like this, the deceptively sunny "Never Learn" (“Never been much good at getting much better than by") and the barn-burning "Fight 'Til You Die" are keen-eyed and tightly orchestrated.  Jeremy Bentley's sound is well-mixed but unfortunately a bit homogeneous.  With the right energy and an open-minded crowd, these songs would absolutely kill.  "Fight" in particular brings to mind Mohawks silhouetted against crumbling steel mills…in other words, twang with attitude.

While the PBR-hoisting anthems are fun, the real intimacy's in the slow dances.  The wistful, whiskey-blurred "Old Song" aches like a war wound (Sometimes you don't get a chance to recover after everything you've been through").  "Dancin' Shoes" is slight but charming, featuring airy violins and slightly weathered female accompaniment.  "That's Me"'s warm harmonica and shaggy rhythm feel like a perfect pair of ripped-to-hell jeans.  Like many tracks, though, it could close a little more emphatically (songs tend to trail off rather than burn down).

Like the album, the title Make It Worse has a hint of wry country charm.  It's a solid disc which really highlights the group's potential.  It's a given that Slimfit can make it better -- the question is how.  Were they to aim for a harder Southern rock vibe, tracks like "Pony Up" and "Which Way You Gonna Go" (which contains a fantastic little burst of fuzzbox distortion) hint that they might give the Drive-By Truckers a run for their money.  On the other hand, the group's more rustic numbers are delivered with joy and authenticity.  They've got chops in both rock and roots… it's a question of which path to take.  On the other hand, like a certain U.S. president and a squishy Easter confection, Slimfit may remain a proud Lancaster original.

Rating: B

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© 2008 Julia Skochko and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Don't You Hate Pants?, and is used for informational purposes only.