Take a journey on the Beltline from Pavement to the Chicago post-rock scene, ending up at an atmospheric sound that is all their own. Beltline are one of those bands that attempt to make you complicit in what they do - ‘you’re an intelligent listener’ it seems to say; ‘you know how difficult it is to produce worthwhile work in this commercial system, so let’s you and I stick together against this tidal wave of dross’. I was expecting to subvert these comments with a smart pay-off but they damn well pull it off - ‘Bang/Head/Counter’ neatly balances traditional song-craft with more esoteric touches, with swirls of guitar, delicate pillows of organ and some bittersweet lyrics all combined in a kind converted cotton mill way. ‘Fits and Starts to Fit’ adds an angry swarm of guitars and disconnected double tracked vocals - so far so good, ears pricked - and by the third track you think you’ve got it worked out, smile to yourself and recall your own fondness for Steve Malkmus, think the review is finished… But wait a minute: where have all these accordions and vibes come from? This sounds more like something from the Sea & the Cake, the cusp of folk and jazz. Then treated guitar waltzing around with cello… oh it’s alright, the Malkmus influence is back, guitars misbehaving with no regard for traditionally soloing, there’s a really good thick chorus and the disintegration is handled really well. Then the easy work for the reviewer as it alternates between aforementioned influences. The cello is back for ‘The New Rules’ and this melancholy lighters aloft stormer ingratiates itself further with the reviewer - with its Built to Spill reference, I’m mentally adding an extra mark. I’m complicit alright, on this and on ‘Without Lights or Sound’ they seem to have found the magic formula between atmosphere and dynamics, the latter having an especially excellent guitar freakout at the end that could be set alongside the controlled explosions of Bedhead. Then just to keep us Americana critics on track, ‘The Encore’ brings on the banjo, brushed drums and downbeat vocals, the formula that gets us every time.
Beltline is the labor of many. Principal song writer Rob Jones has been doing the home recording thing for many years, starting as an exercise in the recording process itself and turning into a decent little songwriter. He pulls inspiration from those around him, working with a revolving cast of Portland luminaries, who over the years have included Ben Barnett (Kind of Like Spitting), Hutch Harris (The Thermals), Jeff London, Adam Selzer (Norfolk and Western), Ryan Matheson (Rally Boy), Rachel Blumberg (Norfolk and Western, The Decemberists, Boy Crazy), Cord Amato (Wow & Flutter) and Derek Trost (Tracker).
Their newest endeavor, "Welcome, Nostalgia", was recorded over the course of 3 years (2001-2004) with lots of stopping, starting, some more stopping and then with the starting again. All tracking and mixing was done at Type Foundry in industrial North Portland by the afore mentioned Adam Selzer. Most of the songs began as rough sketches that took shape over a long weekend in early 2003 when Adam, Derek, Rachel, Cord and Rob set up shop (2 drum kits, vibes, marimba, several amps, pianos, electric guitars, bass guitars, acoustic guitars, and various other toys) and Rob began to show them the bits. They would latch onto one, decide who was gonna play what, work it up and then lay it down. The songs often took sharp turns from their original directions, producing the eclectic, yet still somehow cohesive set of tunes you hear on the record.
Rob has since pulled together a few of the less insanely busy members of said cast to form an actual band for live outings. Derek Trost fills the role of drummer, and sometime vibraphonist and/or accordionist, while Mr. Tony Moreno, also of Norfolk & Western, picks up the bass guitar, and sometimes the banjo, and hardly ever the pedal steel.