The Coals – A Happy Animal
Though this Los Angeles band’s second album includes eight tracks, it clocks in at only twenty-two minutes. With an average song length of 2’45, you might expect music that’s a throwback to Top 40 pop, but the Coals are a folk-flavored Americana band, with road-weary vocals, acoustic and resonator guitars, drums, bass, keyboards and accordion. Vocalist Jason Mandell is an economical writer, and the band’s instrumental breaks provide accents rather than extended solos. Mandell is also a man in search of romantic redemption, brooding over unwanted farewells, pining for unrequited love, seeking the renewal of second chances and gently shedding the skin of failed relationships. He starts several songs in a shell-shocked monotone reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, but as the lyrics gain emotion, so does his voice gain melody. The band takes a New Orleans turn for “Dirt Road,” heads south of the border with Ryan Ross’s trumpet on “Maria,” falls into an easy country groove for “Steal My Heart,” and gives some old-timey twang to “Lord Lord Lord.” That’s a lot of range for eight short songs, but other than the hanging ending of the opener, none of the tracks feel incomplete. Mandell likes to make his point and move on to the next, which gives the album a jaunty pace.