by Joshua Hoey (@reflectiveDIY)
Dave Benton's rock band LVL UP is one of a small handful of guitar-based indie bands to break through into whatever counts as "success" in the stratified DIY community over past few years. After going hard non-stop for several years, his Trace Mountains project allows Benton and his admirers a chance to take a few deep breaths. There's an audible sense of relief and calm running through this set.
While there are a number of collaborators on A Partner To Lean On, this is decidedly a solo project. It's "bedroom pop" in construction, but proficiently played, thoughtfully structured, and impeccably performed. While the first batch of Trace Mountains tunes were self-consciously a bit rough around the edges - both recording-wise and structurally - this set is quite polished, and all the more powerful.
The record opens with the wonderful "Cary's Dreams," which relies on warm drum machine and keyboard tones to carry Benton's understated vocals and effortlessly evocative imagery. Guitars do play a prominent role, mostly in the form of warm, fully voiced open chords. The aforementioned "Cary's Dreams" is a bit of an outlier in this regard. Most of the rest feature live drums, though standout "Turn Twice" also relies on drum machine and throws in some tasty autotuned vocals to boot. The title track's shuffle rhythm lends it an organic, homespun feel, while "Soil" brings just a touch of heaviness to the proceedings.
The distinction from earlier efforts is the sense of completeness, the confidence of a final draft as opposed to (also compelling) sketches. It's an unhurried, cohesive set of modern rock tunes patiently crafted and beautifully rendered.