Kris Racer, Has a Banner Year
Okay, so there’s no way in hell that I’d claim any responsibility for getting somebody to improve musically, but even so, I’m happy to see the change. A few years back, recovering pop-punker and Chicagoan Kris Racer (born Kris Narunatvanich) sent us his last full-length, Time Spent on Airplanes, and yours truly spent two long-winded paragraphs first praising the songs and then savaging the poor guy’s voice. I can’t even entirely explain what I didn’t like about it, unfortunately, just that it sounded like he was trying to get over a cold or something. The voice made it hard for me to like the songs, despite how good they actually were.
This time out, Racer appears to have done some serious work on his vocals, and Has a Banner Year shines because of it. The songs have a seriously Posies/Elliott Smith-ish pop bent, all jangly and nicely polished and slathered with beautiful harmonies, and Racer’s voice meanders gently in and out of the guitar lines, mostly steady and calm but occasionally working up to a barely-concealed bit of bitter anger. Tracks like “Sharper Than Knives,” with the delicate guitars and sweeping vocals, the minimalist, Sebadoh-ish “This Is Your Emergency,” and “Lesser Ways of an Office,” with it’s somewhat speedier, countryish tone, amble into the room with a soft smile and a shrug and just do their thing, and for the most part, they do it right.
Now, time for the “but…” (Oh, come on — you knew there had to be one, right?) Had a Banner Year sounds great, and Racer’s improved vocally by leaps and bounds, but he’s also stepped a bit away from the sparking energy he threw off on Time Spent on Airplanes; with few exceptions, the new album’s pace is slow and sleepy, nice for lazy summer afternoons laying on the couch in the sunlight, and the production’s so smooth it practically gleams. The high level of polish and more laid-back approach to this record, though, takes away from some of the passion Racer generally shows. Less Dashboard Confessional, more Badly Drawn Boy, if you get my meaning.
But you know what? That’s okay. Call this the Empire Strikes Back of Racer’s oeuvre, if you will — with Time Spent on Airplanes, Racer proved he had heart and raw talent, with this one he proves he knows what he’s doing, and hopefully with the next one, he’ll blow us away. (Okay, so I know my Star Wars metaphor falls flat when I get to Jedi; work with me here, people.)