FOREWORD: This article originally ran in Cover Magazine, a local Manhattan arts paper owned and operated by Jeff Wright. Unfortunately, months after the piece ran, Acetone bassist-vocalist Richie Lee commited suicide at age 34, July ’01. Formed in 1993, Acetone’s soft-toned folk-psych tranquility nicely countered the prevalent grunge scene’s nervy distortion-laced dislocation.
Meeting at a California art school several years back, guitarist/ vocalist Mark Lightcap and bassist/ backup vocalist Richie Lee originally gained exposure as part of San Diego’s high concept garage/ hot rod combo Spinout. But the contrivances of that bands’ singer and the firm belief they had taken Spinout as far as possible allowed the ambitious duo (along with recently departed drummer Steve Hadley) to form the highly respected band, Acetone. After a few promising, slo-core-related albums, they signed to Neil Young’s Vapor Records and recorded a critically acclaimed eponymous set that further expanded their impressionistic chill out sound.
Though not as low key and sedate as its predecessor, their fourth album, York Blvd, still offers restrained late night ambiance, entrancing moodscapes, and dynamic tension. Breezy harmonies give “Wonderful World” a minimalist Yo La Tengo-ish resonation while gently hummed moans quietly melt over the delicately reverberating “One Drop.” Chilly organ and elongated guitar chords give “Vaccination” a soulful boost and the Jazz-tinged “Vibrato” gets inundated by a buzzy solo guitar break.
“This album is closer to our debut, with its diversity and arrangements,” Lightcap admits after a well-received one hour set at the tiny, smoke-infested confines of East Village bar, the Lakeside Lounge.
“I like the cozy atmosphere. I’d rather play the Lakeside for no money than the Knitting Factory (for money). The set up is easier and the audience is so close,” he says.
Packed tightly into the 1,000 square foot backroom space with only a few rickety speakers are an increasing number of fans. Some are sitting on the floor directly in front of the stage while others stroll in late and block my view from a table close by. As Lightcap and Lee sing in hushed tones, subtle melodic riffs drift through the dense, cigarette-filled air.
Though I only got to share a few thoughts with the polite Lightcap after the set, I remember the wisdom this Philadelphia native gave me concerning Acetone awhile back when they were opening for similarly penetrating band, Spiritualized.
He said, “Our music is totally triangular. It exists because we make music that is indigenous to us. When we play live, there’s a lot of improvisation. There are nights where you suck live. But that’s the price you pay for keeping it fresh. We don’t play free Jazz jams, but there are some wild card elements.”
In fact, York Blvd. escapes self-indulgence because Acetone remain confident in their ability to construct carefully calibrated five minute songs. The warm melodies slip into the ether on the subdued “19,” which recalls the dreamier escapades of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. The luminous “Like I Told You” has a cuddly feel that would fit in fine next to Fleetwood Mac’s worthwhile pre-fame album Bare Trees. Overall, a certain dramatic imagery enlightens each of the albums’ cuts.
Thankfully, Acetone has recently received radio exposure from New York’s listener supported WFUV-FM. Pulling into the driveway after heading home from a hard days’ work one night, it was so wonderful to hear the free form station discovering an understated group I knew deserved the recognition from the start. Here’s hoping their audience continues to grow.