Algorithm and Blues (Vacationist League Music)
For local-music aficionados, John Tilson is one of the heroes of high-top rock; as co-leader of the Swamis, he helped define the Knoxville sound of sardonic/silly garage-rock that flourished here for much of the ’90s. Performing with multi-intrumentalist Brandon Beavers (Johnson Swingtet) as Vacationist League, he takes a much more stripped-down approach that’s spanned 15 years and five releases. Their latest, Algorithm and Blues, is even more bare in an emotional sense. From the opening song “Underrequited” to closer “Now I Cry” (“When I was young/My acid tongue/Inflamed by my lizard brain/Would spark, spit/With sarcastic wit ... Now I cry at the least little thing”) there are undertones of melancholy that inevitably come with making it to middle age. But that’s not to say there aren’t some sprightly numbers, like “Tom Verlaine” and “Points Lines Planes,” or even weirdness, as in the instrumental “Organ Origami.” Indeed, Tilson still writes songs with a singularly offbeat viewpoint, not to be mistaken for anyone else’s work—but here they’re performed with a coffeehouse setting in mind rather than a Fort Sanders bar-laundromat. And I miss some of that old rowdiness.