Part one of The Rentals’ proposed three part Songs About Time project dropped this month with The Story of a Thousand Seasons EP, and with it a preorder for the whole shebang. 2009 finds The Rentals at their slimmest – Jamie Black, Lauren Chipman, Dan Joeright, and Matt Sharp, with Pixies alum Joey Santiago guesting on “Song of Remembering,” are all that remain from the band’s reunion on 2007’s The Last Little Life EP. It’s fitting, in that Thousand Seasons is easily the most stripped down Rentals release. Mellow and pretty, it downplays most of The Rentals previous strengths. It’s not nearly as synth-driven and the melodies are colder. And yet, The Story of a Thousand Seasons works.
It opens with “Song of Remembering,” an electronic ditty that doubles as Songs About Time’s pseudo-mission statement. The project revolves around three areas – music, photos (Photographs About Days), and short films (Films About Weeks). The band is shooting/posting a film for every week, and frontman Matt Sharp is snapping shots for every day of the year. Chipman hits a fantastic hook over an electronic drum beat – “Not everyone moves beyond the past / Everything moves / But outside these photographs everything dies / Cycles of time / Everyone is passing, passing, passing, passing through.” It’s sad and mournful and obsessive and beautiful. Which is kind of like the overall project; it’s an attempt to catch and catalog as much of 2009 as possible. Which more or less correlates with the title track, which follows.
“Story of a Thousand Seasons Past” adds another layer to the first song’s recordkeeping. Among shining piano and violin lines, Sharp bemoans how “we have this technology to send apologies that swim inside our heads.” He believes that this instant availability devalues communication – and he’s kind of right, ya Facebook stalkers – and settles for writing all his thoughts down, to be read at another date, when he’s more removed from the experience.
“All I Have” reaffirms the EP’s obsession with records of any sort, this time harkening back to Last Little Life’s synth-y indie rock while recalling the seduction of city streets that was best captured on Seven More Minutes. It’s the dreamiest of the new tracks, and an excellent segue into the last song, “Seven Years,” which is darn right driving compared to the more ethereal previous material.
The Story of a Thousand Seasons takes a few listens to warm up. It’s colder and more understated compared to Return of The Rentals or Seven More Minutes, and the hooks are less obvious. But that’s what gives it distinction. This EP edges into territory The Rentals never fully embraced before – the electronic music, guitar squalls, and honest-to-gosh piano on “Song of Remembering” certainly stand out. Time will tell whether or not this is the new direction of Songs About Time or just one avenue. Check out therentals.com to stream/purchase the tunes on mp3, FLAC, or CD. The next chapter is due in August.