Safe Sound & Temporary
Milwaukee’s At Latl is a band of two minds. On its full-length debut, Safe Sound & Temporary, guitarist D. Kent Watson and bassist Dan Mahony split singing duties roughly down the middle, resulting in a collection of songs often at odds with itself, though never entirely incoherent. Of the two, Watson’s contributions win handily—his marble-mouthed, Davey von Bohlen-by-way-of-Daniel Johnston vocal style is one of the group’s biggest strengths. “Jesus Won’t Wait” pits this talky delivery against a driving backing track, while “Silly Sparrow” spends nearly half its runtime sans vocals before bursting into a big, sparkling chorus. Clearly indebted to Modest Mouse and Built To Spill, the terrific “Goodbye Goodbye” enlists a pair of chatty, shaggy-dog verses in a lovely meditation on loss and regret.
“Trains Freighted,” however, stands alone as the album’s high point. Shuffling, shambling, and maddeningly wordy—full of rushed lyrics and off-kilter phrasings—it’s a brilliant opening shot. Stuffing what seems like half a novella into the song’s first 90 seconds, Watson, Mahony, and drummer Kevin Christensen eventually break off into a long, loping, keyboard-infused jam. It’s an unexpected, one-two punch, and a perfect synthesis of both the band’s literate aspirations and college-friendly tendencies.
Unfortunately, the rest of Temporary is too often left playing catch-up. Mahony turns in fine work with “Deliverance” and “Soft Violence,” though the group’s tendency to wear its influences on its sleeve is frequently problematic. Still, when At Latl plays to its wistful, effusive strengths, it manages to twist these influences into something surprising and unique. “It was different then / when you looked in their eyes / It was consuming,” Watson hurriedly sings on “Trains Freighted.” This is a band that shines when it’s nearly out of breath.
At Latl performs Aug. 25 at Yield (1932 E. Kenilworth Pl.) to celebrate the release of Safe Sound & Temporary.