Album Reviews

The Chairman Dances

Time Without Measure

Artist:     The Chairman Dances

Album:     Time Without Measure

Label:     Black Rd Records

Release Date:     08/26/2016


Other than being great humanitarians famed for bucking the system, what do Jimmy Carter, labor champion Cesar Chavez and anti-Nazi German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer have in common? All three are namechecked in song titles on Time Without Measure, the first full-length album from ultra-literate indie-rock upstarts The Chairman Dances. Comparisons with The Decemberists and Belle & Sebastian are inevitable, although these Philadelphians are more overtly political.

Their biographical lyrics delve into, and celebrate, the extraordinarily full lives of activists such as Catholic anarchist Dorothy Day, African-American civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer and the Vietnam-era agitators known as the “Catonsville 9,” just to name a few. And they do so with a genuine interest in the totality of their experiences, not just the causes they espoused – all of which makes this an ambitious undertaking.

Time Without Measure is not always just a dry listening experience made especially for serious academics, though. Musically, it’s all over the map, as “Therese” and the aforementioned “Cesar Chavez” unfold in vivid and unexpected ways, like unfinished psych-pop transmissions from the Flaming Lips. The fuzz-coated guitars, tender hooks and wounded beauty of “Augustine” makes it a prize, and “Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin” is a piece of well-crafted alternative-pop. What sinks Time Without Measure are the hushed folk ballads that wander about in murky darkness without purpose. “Jimmy Carter, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer” and “Peter Gomes and Nancy Koehn” are the dullest of the lot. It seems Carter and Bonhoeffer are a lot alike that way.

– Peter Lindblad

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