Author: Vivian Sarratt
08/14/2001 | Hybrid Magazine | | Album Review
Don't be fooled by the new-agey cover art; the latest release from Son, Ambulance is one of the most premier indie rock bands as of late. Once roommates and bandmates with the raspy-voiced and overexposed Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, Joe Knapp has yet to escape the association. Their split CD, Oh Holy Fools, contained eight sneakily alternating songs from the two Nebraskans. Euphemystic is the first release of Son, Ambulance, and shows a great deal of promise. It's so hard to review this record when all I can hear in my head are comparisons to Bright Eyes, but I'll try anyway.

Generally containing intensely personal mid-tempo songs, Euphemystic starts with the catchy "An Instant Death", showcasing Joe Knapp's straightforward, optimistic voice. Beginning with an acoustic guitar, it launches into a poppy, positive introduction to a wonderful record. I hear the similarities to Belle and Sebastian, but I think B&S are boring Scottish tripe. Joe Knapp's stuff is so much more heartfelt and sincere. Influences are various and sundry, and seem to include the Rolling Stones in their late 1970s period with a folky twang, Bruce Springsteen, Jets to Brazil's Orange Rhyming Dictionary, and a strong pull to Billy Joel's piano-based tunes. This is classic singer songwriter material with a very up-front production style, and it's destined for greatness.

Each song is different with Knapp's soft but clear vocal lines maintaining continuity. His voice isn't as strong as Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, but it's stronger than Oberst's. If you find Oberst to be a presumptuous indie darling, Son, Ambulance will be a refreshing change. His songwriting is brilliant but the emotions are somewhat immature, which is perhaps its most endearing trait. Track five is "Maria in Motion", a Bossa Nova inspired number. Maria is such a popular Latina name, and makes me wish he had chosen Consuela, Juanita, or Mercedes. Nonetheless, this is a catchy record and improves with each listen.

"Violet", the last track, has Oberst singing guest vocals, and the two voices juxtaposed is a nice mix, but his warbley faux vibrato sounds weak next to Knapp's clear voice. The appeal Oberst retains on his own records is his troubled and dramatic approach, where Knapp finds a prettier, kinder sensibility.

Upon first listen one might dismiss this album as bedroom songwriter or rehashed Bright Eyes, but it's so not. If you are at all sick of Bright Eyes or even if you enjoy them, you will be pleased with Euphemystic. Remember, however, not to compare the two, like I did here.


CD / MP3