By Tamara Vallejos
NPR.org, November 6, 2008 - The most immediately striking thing about London-based pop quintet Absentee is singer Dan Michaelson's deep and gravelly voice. A little bit Leonard Cohen, a little bit Johnny Cash, Michaelson immediately takes hold of listeners on the band's second full-length album, Victory Shorts.
Released this fall on the Memphis Industries label, Victory Shorts has individual moments of greatness, but sometimes feels bipolar overall. The album begins with one of its strongest songs, the lovely ballad "Shared." The combination of Michaelson's baritone and delicate female harmonies are lulling, but the calm doesn't last long. Suddenly, the pounding drums and brawny guitar of "Boy, Did She Teach You Nothing?" leap in. While it's a wonderfully catchy tune, the transition is jarring.
It's not the only time that happens on Victory Shorts. Later, the gorgeous but heartbreaking melancholia of "Love Has Had Its Way" is undercut when it's followed up by the raucous "Bitchstealer." Then again, maybe there's brilliance in how Absentee treats the subject of ended relationships. While "Love Has Had Its Way" is a passive bemoaning of love lost, "Bitchstealer" takes the exact opposite route. "I need to find a way / To try to make her stay when she wants to go," sings a determined Michaelson. The shuffling between anger, frustration and sadness will feel familiar to anyone in a failed romance.