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Continuous Peasant 

Exile in Babyville

Wednesday, Sep 24 2003
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Every poet wants to sing, but how does it feel, at 40, to arrive in the Bay Area with your first album? Can you swallow your age, unsure if tonight's the night? Meet Chris Stroffolino, worried man on vocals and keyboards, who, with his band Continuous Peasant's debut, Exile in Babyville, is either indie rock's Randy Newman or its Paul Shaffer.

At its best, indie rock is a reflection (and a distortion) of the records in a band's collection. Pavement, Liz Phair, and Guided by Voices have made records that came directly out of their influences (the Fall, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles); they have played under the shadows of their idols and knocked over a few statues. Stroffolino walks that line between taking and making, but he has a different lineage to contend with: Bob Dylan may or may not be a good poet, but he is a peerless songwriter. Stroffolino, who played on the Silver Jews' American Water with the poet/songsmith David Berman, is first a poet, and at some point down the line, a songwriter. Exile finds him looking for the bridge between the two. However, lyrics like "You're running 'round in circles but it's cheaper than the store" do not necessarily come across. On the other hand, "They call me Unabomber, they call me terrorist" gets nowhere as poetry but floats in a song.

If poets must sing, they have to listen to the music. Stroffolino pays as much attention to his keyboards as he does his lyrics. The interplay of electric piano and Peter Nochisaki's guitar makes the album recognizable as melodic indie rock, while distinguishing it from simple guitar-driven music. Also, Stroffolino knows to pour honey over his poor chords. The record is just pretty enough, and just desperate enough, to bring the listener back for more. Exile won't come to you all at once -- some of it may never reach you -- but there are plenty of layers to discover, and the lucid moments are worth looking for.

About The Author

Jeff Johnson

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