Top-notch production can be a wonderful thing. When you've got a lot of talented musicians working together, the right production can isolate each instrument and give people a clear view of how the musicians are working together. On the other hand, it can also stamp out any rough edges that would have made the album interesting.
Map of Wyoming's latest is well-produced. Vocalist/guitarist Dale Duncan and drummer John Stuart have been floating around the music scene in San Francisco long enough to have been part of the Paisley Underground movement, and they have put together a talented group of folks. The playing is crisp, and the arrangements uncluttered. They identify more with R.E.M. than Uncle Tupelo, and their sound comes more from sunny California than any windswept, snowbound state, their name notwithstanding. Still, their straightforward 4/4 and waltz-time beats, atmospheric palettes, and guitar, piano, and pedal steel instrumentation sometimes gets them hooked in with the alt.-country movement. "Hilltop" has the requisite weepy steel, and many of the tracks feature the crunchy electric guitar sound Gary Louris pioneered with The Jayhawks. But the chiming 12-strings and bubbling organ sounds on tunes like "For All I Can See" are torn directly from west coast psychedelic music.
Still, this lacks fire. Even on several tunes supposed to rock ("I Still Need It"), they sound like a practice run, and despite the details that embellish them, there's a certain sameness to the songs. There's something stifling about "Trouble Is."