Album Review: Trey Anastasio ‘Traveler’

When Trey Anastasio made the decision to enter into the realm of indie rock, it can at least be said that he was in no way trepidatious about it. This album is so loaded with quirky ambience and atmospheric swells of strings that it puts bands like Arcade Fire and The National to shame, but to really work it has to have the ring of authenticity.

‘Corona’ features a quite ethereal vibe, resulting in a track that feels like a bright morning out on the road with a steady, chugging beat and rhythmic guitar, complete with sing-along vocals. It presents two themes for the album and makes the case that they can work well together, provided that Anastasio can build on it.

The album was framed by its co-producer, Peter Katis, as one for fans to listen to on the way home from a show, saying, “we set out to make a record that people could pop on in their car on their way back from a concert, or that they could throw on at 2am when they’re driving”. Many of Traveler’s tracks have that sing-along, slightly hungover quality, but this isn’t the core of the album and it’s not represented with as much gusto as its light, indie, almost easy-listening motif.

‘Let Me Lie’ is a straight up do-over of a Phish song from Party Time, and it’s only slightly changed here. The light and friendly vibe is maintained, with a little more density to the airy aesthetic. It’s disappointingly close to the original though, seeming almost unnecessary.

The indie rock motif Anastasio goes for here comes quite naturally to him, but it doesn’t necessarily resonate that way as an auditory experience. If anything, the record comes across as a fan of hipster rock paying tribute to a genre, without really attempting to put his own spin on it. When the album tries to speak to its concept, it falls a little flat, feeling safe and unadventurous.

It’s the songs that stray the furthest from Traveler’s center of gravity that have the greatest impact. ‘Land of Nod’ gets much more rhythmic and drops the light aura, for a reggae guitar, frenetic percussion and unhinged horns. It’s primarily an instrumental, and it feels something like climbing a mountain to deliver a subpoena to a wicked witch. When the traveler arrives at the summit, the song falls back on the ethereal, floating mode this album turns to so often. The concept is to take the listener into a nightmare and twist it into a beautiful dream, but I felt like I was taken to a superior album only to have the rug pulled back out from under me.

‘Pigtail’ feels like a Phish song, and it’s the only one. This track leaves indie sensibilities behind for a classic rock interlude. ‘Scabbard’ combines aspects of the two previous songs, and it might be the best that Trey Anastasio has to offer here. This section of the record is its clear highlight, but the bulk of the other songs come nowhere near this brief visit to a more satisfying sound.

There are a lot of collaborators present on the album, lending more credibility to the idea that Anastasio is acting as a tribute or a cover band. ‘Clint Eastwood’ is one of the greatest offenders in that regard, even though the song itself is great. It is faithfully covered here, but is a faithful cover really the sort of music an artist like Trey Anastasio should be focusing his energy on? Virtually nothing about the song is changed.

While Traveler might not be a perfect or important record, it’s a pretty decent one. Other than a few standout tracks, it is very easily dismissed, but pleasing, if dangerously close to finding itself relegated to background music.

Release Date: October 16, 2012
Image Courtesy of Ato Records