by / May 22nd, 2009 /

Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards – Saltwater

 1/5 Rating

(Memphis Industries)

The fortunes of the musical -side project’ have on the whole been somewhat mixed. For every Raconteurs there’s a Mike and the Mechanics; for every Damon Albarn, an Alex James. (You might remember English football shout-a-long ‘Vindaloo’, but Fat Les’s follow-up single, ‘Naughty Christmas (Goblin In The Office)’, never hit quite the same heights.) Dan Michaelson is usually the frontman of London band Absentee. On this album, however, he has done the time-honoured thing by gathering around him a coterie of other musicians – including members of the Magic Numbers, Rumble Strips and Fields – and going it alone. Happily, the results are more Jack White than Mike Rutherford.

Michaelson’s main distinguishing feature is his voice. It’s low. Lower than Cash, lower than Cave, lower possibly even than that guy from the Crash Test Dummies; it sounds like he’s dragging his larynx along a gravel path. It’s lovely, actually, and wraps itself around the various tales of love’s travails on this album in an altogether comforting way.

The songs themselves tend towards the balladic, with opener ‘Ease On In’ (not in fact a reference to penetrative sex, but a sad song about miscommunication) a particular highlight. ‘Your Second Man’ is one of a couple of more upbeat numbers. And a horn section, incidentally, is something more balladeers should consider as a way to augment sparse instrumentation.

‘I was a sailor till my ship went down’, Michaelson sings on ‘Now I’m A Coastguard’. One presumes this isn’t a reference to the fate of his day-job band; but if it was, he could do a lot worse than this as far as side projects go. ‘Goblin In The Office’, it isn’t.

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