Steve Koester, formerly the singer and guitarist for the indie rock outfit Punchdrunk, has dropped his first name and gone solo, backed by the Richmond, Virginia indie band Maki. Koester's debut record, Oh! Turpentine, is filled with lazy, country-tinged, lyrically acute songs infused with a sense of space, of distance from tall buildings and traffic. There is a feeling of warm desolation to this music; it's both lonesome and intimate. Most of the instrumentation here is pretty minimal, consisting primarily of slow-burning bass and guitar and percussion and Koester's husky, vulnerable voice. On a number of songs, like "Bucktown," Koester gets help from a number of additional musicians, including members and former members of
Drunk, Verbena, and Punchdrunk, who play cello, Jew's harp, and even musical saw on some songs, adding emotional accents to the sparse tunes. "Out to Pasture" is a strikingly barren, emotionally immediate piano-based number (featuring the memorable refrain, "Got put out to pasture/With all the cows and shit/And every time she comes around/She sticks my face in it"). Maybe what's most striking about Koester's sound is its lack of perfection; he regularly sings off-key and the band occasionally hits bum notes. Somehow the music's flaws make its fractured emotions ring all the more true.