Some bands find a niche and run with it for a while, sticking with what they're good at and exploring variations on a theme. That's where The New Amsterdams, a band led by the plaintive vocals of singer/songwriter Matt Pryor find themselves with their latest release, At The Foot of My Rival, and it's a good location for them. There's a strong sense of open spaces and broken relationships running through the 14 introspective tracks here, and Pryor knows how to play to his strengths.
Most of the album was recorded at Pryor's Kansas home, and it shows stylistically; there are the background pop and fuzz some audiophiles recognize from their vinyl collections, and the homegrown quality on some tracks, like the mid-tempo opener "Revenge," is impossible to miss. But it works with the style Pryor et al. work in: It always comes across as intentional and stylistically relevant, and not just indicating the limitations of a low budget. Rival is unquestionably an album for rainy days, as fans of their previous release, Story Like a Scar, will not be surprised to discover.
For fans of Pryor's thoughtful lyrics and warm arrangements, there won't be too many weak spots on Rival, and a few tracks stand out. "Drunk or Dead" is a straightforward mid-tempo piece that sounds like closing time, while "Without A Sound (Eleanor)" changes the emotional temperature in a rare spike of anger. The ominously named "The Blood on the Floor" closes out the album with a spooky string arrangement with echoes of an interesting variation on the New Amsterdam sound, like filtering Wilco through a Tom Waits recording session. It's not vastly different from their previous work, but it's a strong revisiting of similar themes, and it's just the thing for gray afternoons with a long horizon in front of you and regrets behind.