November 22, 2007

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Tim Williams, When Work is Done
Dovecote/Fontana, Oct. 3
Thought you’d get through a whole year without my getting all Serious Rock Writer about another alt-folkie dude, did you? Neener! New Yorker Williams — whose beard makes him look like a baseball card subject from 1923 — nervously allowed the tragic vibe of his previous self-release to be surgically removed by UK producer Dave Lynch, and the resulting album is a very dangerous contender. Williams’ vocal delivery ranges from a variation on Billy Corrigan (not nasal that way, but with the same suppressed brattiness seething beneath the surface) to full-lilt Sufjan Stevens, but that’s not as strange-bedfellow as it may look, especially when the songs — beautifully written and sadly happy — contain equal doses of college-rock octane and open-mike Americana strumming. Scary start, though — the Bowery Ballroom-bootlicking xylophone in opener “Novel” I could have done without, and where’s all the damn xylophone coming from in these indie releases anyway? If we pretend the xylophone never happened, the entire slab is a real winner, by turns hauntingly sweet (“To and From Tomorrow”), angstfully Radiohead-like (“Bills,” “Tape Your Head”), glitch-techie (“Out There,” “Tape Your Head” again) and, ultimately, tacking in the direction of big-radio pop (Lindsay Buckingham on “Stop Your Kidding,” Tom Petty on “Builds and Explodes”). If this were penny stock I’d buy a ton of it; the alt-rock and electro-glitch is perfectly woven into Williams’ Grammy-level songwriting, never overly done or annoying. It’s that rare sort of album that stands out among all the unscented garbage that comes in here, and if this guy ends up slumming in coffee shops the way Peter Adams did (last I heard, anyway), well, what a shame. A Eric W. Saeger