Record Review 

Ida, Idaho, Low. Three bands with similar sounding names, lumped in the same category (call it slowcore or hush-rock), all exploring aspects of musical malaise. Slowcore is accused of being too skeletal, but within the strongly beating minimalism of each is a meaty musicianship. It's impossible to discuss hush-rock without conceding the sonorous similarities between these leading bands, all intense and intimate, so with the name-dropping out of the way, here's why Idaho is different.

The cover of Hearts of Palm, Idaho's first new album since forming their Idaho Music label, depicts an open door, but Idaho haven't strayed too far from home. Hearts still mixes tinkling pianos and twinkling guitars with a textured, humming backdrop broken occasionally by drumming that ranges from dirge-like to barely brushing the surface.

But what sets Idaho apart is their weakest instrument. Jeff Martin's brooding baritone is so full of emotion it repeatedly threatens to break. Martin's range may be limited, but like Neil Young or J. Mascis, his ability to express himself within those confines is limitless. Unlike other hush-rock vocalists, Martin can't soar, he sounds too sore. But his mournful tone, held back by a heavy heart and complemented by Dan Seta's four-string guitar -- sometimes strummed like a soft breeze, other times emitting gale force power chords -- isn't lacking in poignant sadness.

Hearts of Palm sounds like the soft rustle of trees awakening after a summer shower, its leaves turning toward the light. It's the gentle growth of a band's dim din.

Idaho play the Echo Lounge, Thurs., Nov. 16.

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