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Strays Don't Sleep

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Album Review

A truly awful, non-descriptive band name hides a small gem of an album that springs from an unexpected collaboration. Neilson Hubbard has released several solo albums' worth of twangy power pop in the tradition of Nick Lowe, while Matthew Ryan is more often compared to grizzled vets like Tom Waits and Lucinda Williams. The press kit for their first duo album as Strays Don't Sleep claims that the pair first bonded over a mutual love of artsy Scottish indie outfit the Blue Nile, and indeed, opening track "Love Don't Owe You Anything" takes a page from the spacious arrangements of the Blue Nile's A Walk Across the Rooftops. (Latter-day Scots Belle & Sebastian are another good touchstone for the album as a whole.) Ryan's rough croak of a voice meshes uneasily with Hubbard's choirboy tenor, giving the album a refreshing sense of friction that's subtly amplified by the pair's decision to sing each other's lyrics rather than their own. As a result, Ryan doesn't fall into familiar blues-rock vocal melodies and Hubbard sounds almost entirely different than he does on his solo records. The arrangements are equally unusual for both: in keeping with the U.K. indie brief, the previously all-American songwriters build the tunes with delicate layers of keyboards, drum machines, and effects-laden guitars that rarely play recognizable riffs. There are certainly fans of both artists who won't care for the singer/songwriters' new direction here, but fans of Ivy, Camera Obscura, or the '80s U.K. indie bands who inspired them will find much to appreciate.

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