There is no easy way to listen to Minor Characters’ new album—and that’s a good thing. On paper (or digital ether, as it were) this album should be an easy listen as it has 13 songs with exceptional rhythms, magnetic harmonies, and heartfelt lyrics. In reality, Voir Dire reaches deeper than a formula typical for a newer rock band will bear, and begs a second listen, as well as a third—possibly a tenth.
The band’s first full-length is more mature lyrically and technically than expected of a debut, though having two EPs chockfull of vintage-inspired earworm tunes doesn’t hurt the Chicago trio’s track record. The album begins with a slow, jangling guitar, soon joined by a simple yet evocative wish: “I wanna know my neighbors/…/Like it was in the ’90s.” Within the first 10 seconds, vocalist and guitarist Andrew Pelletier acknowledges a rift in local discourse everywhere, which has grown in less than one generation. In “Neighbors,” he expresses a need to return to a time of connection to real members of the community, rather than the faceless, remote individuals we meet by staring at a screen.
Truly, the overall theme of Voir Dire seems to be a desire to connect with those nearest to us in earnest—as the Latin expression implies—with no interest in reaching far-flung audiences who are invariably removed from current dialogue.
The record boasts slick-yet-murky guitars, pounding drums, rumbling bass, silky piano, and sing-along vocals inspired by ’60s singer-songwriters such as Simon and Garfunkel, and Cat Stevens. Pelletier, along with guitarist and vocalist Shelby Pollard, bassist Adam Wayne, and James Ratke—the band’s now former drummer, have created a much needed album of 13 diverse songs that each follow an arc of genuineness. The rollicking single “Berlin Wall” has chiming guitar distortion and magnetic “ooh-oohs” that wobble, illustrating the political and literal instability of the real Berlin Wall as Pelletier croons, “revolution’s so predictable.”
Offbeat drums create a haze that surrounds “Sparrow/Hollow,” though the sound is habitually permeated by grouchy guitar parts and sporadic dissonant sounds that move to the sway of an ambivalent bird avoiding a telephone pole. The centrifugal tone may cause motion sickness, but it’s prescribed to shy wanderers who seek a confidant. To that point, the isolation in Pelletier’s solo performance of “To Young America” indicates a call to Millennials who may understand his quiet pleas.
Indeed, the complexities of the music and lyrics of Voir Dire invite listeners to lend an earnest ear and judge by intention and not by action. In a landscape that has long been weighed down by insincere music, talent, and ideas, Minor Characters offers a rare musical respite that is pure and real.
Minor Characters – Voir Dire tracklist:
- “Broadway Bow”
- “Berlin Wall”
- “A Lovely Reception”
- “White Handkerchiefs”
- “So Weird”
- “To Young America”
- “Broken Horses”