First impressions are deceptive with the Anomoanon. A cursory listen to the group's self-titled third album (just released on Palace Records) offers up unassertive folk-rock sounds, melodies that stumble as often as they skip, and singer/songwriter/guitarist/Baltimore transplant Ned Oldham's appealing but somewhat reserved everyman vocals. But once you sit down and pay attention, new depths reveal themselves within The Anomoanon.
Many of the album's tunes sound like folk-song pastiches, but for every seemingly straightforward neo-atavistic number, like the album-opening open-road romp "Going to the Sea" or the sea chantey "Mermaid's Womb," there's a song that makes you wonder just what exactly is going on here. Beneath the harmonious, Dead-sy amble of "Camp" lies a blood-spattered tale of al fresco mayhem. "Baby, Baby, Baby" proves that Oldham can write a fine, unclichéd love song--he likes the way his love drives her car and walks through barroom smoke. On the subsequent "Baby, It's You," though, his protagonist woos an old love in that same calm, kindly voice but gets increasingly put out about out his past-history status. "I'm coming back to stay/ I'm giving you today to make a choice," he coos/warns. After several listens, even the seemingly plain-spoken herpetology hymn "Expect Snakes" seems to conceal menace beneath its placid surface.
That diffident first impression is sure to last for some listeners. The band members (Oldham, bassist Willy McLean, drummer Jack Carneal, keyboardist Jason Stith, and lead guitarist Aram Stith) maintain a loose, unshowy feel throughout, and some of the tunes remain thoroughly inscrutable. But don't sell The Anomoanon short. Expect to be surprised.