Abileen bored me to tears when the band played at (cough) the Pitch Music Awards show in August. Granted, I was slipping into a Coors Light coma at the time. And the band did take the stage after some serious sensory overload from the Marching Cobras. And I also knew little about Heidi Phillips or Frogpond — the esteemed band she fronted until its implosion in 2000 — so the resurgence of Phillips in Abileen meant fuck-all to me. I found the quartet capable, if a tad dull.
But the Abileen EP thaws some of that apprehension. What seemed tedious in person resonates more deeply and sounds more lively when the countryside is racing past your car window. And after four years, Phillips is still a queen of the singer-songwriter hill, even though her husky, strained vocals threaten to encumber as many tracks as they carry.
“House of Gold,” “The Day We Were Made” and “Drive” are pleasant enough but, annoying alliteration aside, Abileen asserts the artistic ascent of Abileen with “Abilene.” Out on the highway/Under the sun/Take all the bad things/Leave ’em behind, Phillips pensively instructs. ‘Cause there’s got to be something that they can’t destroy/ And the stars last night told me I might find it in Abilene.
I’m guessing it isn’t the Dwight Eisenhower museum. But whatever it is, it’s something the band seems as eager to lose as to find. “Crazy and Losin’ It” is about as close as Abileen gets to doing both simultaneously. “Crazy” passes as a rollicking stomp on an album streaked with hopeful determination and dried tears. But it may take a full-length album before Abileen can convince me that those tears are caused by soul-baring beauty rather than by simple boredom.