Langen Neubacher's musical evolution has been played out across South City stages over the past few years, first as an open-mic performer, then as an open-mic host and solo performer, and now as the leader of the Defeated County. The album art to this five-song EP makes her importance plain: "Performs Songs by Langen Neubacher" is furled across the top.
The self-titled set is a band effort, though -- Glenn Burleigh's pedal steel is a spectral presence in most tracks, and Bryan Ranney uses his mandolin to add some necessary high-end jangling. Even Kevin Koehler (guitar) and Simon Chervitz (bass), both of whom are used to playing a much more energetic style of music in the live hip-hop band Illphonics, show up on the album. Her open-mic roots help this all-inclusive gathering, though the bare-bones acoustic folk of Neubacher's songs leave a lot more white space.
There's a rusty, haunted tone to these songs, from the minor-key fingerpicking of opening track "Darkest Eyes" to the ringing, claustrophobic reverb that coats Neubacher's vocals. She sings in a breathy, halting fashion that, at times, matches the uneasiness of the lyrics. Other times, she sounds unsure of the phrasing or how to make each word land. She's a cunning enough lyricist, but there's a gap between the lyrics and how they're delivered, though some harmonic help from Irene Allen and Jenn Malzone gives a sweetly spooky lift throughout the disc.
With no drums and minimal percussion, these songs have no rhythmic center and tend to drift, unmoored: "Parking Lot" has a catchy, jaunty chord progression -- at the midpoint of the EP, it's a necessary move towards something poppier -- but shifting tempos keep it from sticking. (The uncredited, hidden sixth track, presumably called "I'm a Mammal," gives a tossed-off glimpse of kid-friendly, body-positive folk-rock that is a pendulum-swing away from the heaviness of the first half of the disc.)