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We Are Amateurs, You and I (Self-Starter Foundation)

Once in a blue moon we get reminded that indie rock began with the awfully noble idea of making music that tempered a few genuinely lofty ambitions with punk rock's rejection of all worldly pretense. Indie-rock bands eventually break up or become jaded; either way, it's like death, because it's one less bastion of honesty between us and the stuff that drives us to Prozac or banana daiquiris.

Well, pour some beer out on the curb for Haywood, because they've recorded their masterpiece and called it a day. Their final album, We Are Amateurs, You and I, isn't perfect, but it shimmers with occasional greatness like a magnolia just about to bloom. It's indie rock, all right; it sounds like Superchunk when it's loud and a little like the Sea and Cake when it's quiet, but it has its own voice, too, and in this way Haywood carries on the commendable indie-rock tradition of preferring modification to innovation. The new thing Haywood brings to the table is a keen, almost sadistic ear for wistfulness. Here, in "Hotel Bar in Moscow," the band finds fat, sorrowful minor chords to strike just when they're on the verge of becoming completely abandoned to the song's bouncing, dimly-lit-club-in-Waukegan rhythm. It's startling; it has to it the feel of a band that was onto something.

It's the next number, though, that makes Haywood's demise seem like a real occasion for grief. A lounge-ready breeze of a song with some quietly harsh lyrics ("I want to be just like my dad/and marry the first real thing I ever had"), "Come On Tell the Truth Now" is a must-hear, the sort of skillful, pretty, intelligent song that makes a person want to boycott all major-label releases forever. It's got everything that's missing from the radio: passion, and subtle power, and the love that drives bands to practice illegally in storage lockers and garages weekend after weekend in pursuit of the song that will leave their distinct mark on the unremembering face of the universe. All of Haywood's last moments are worth hearing; some of them, like "Come On Tell the Truth Now," the mournful "Six Stars" and "Button Up Buttercup," are vital. All this and the best album title of the year, too. Make it a double: We've lost another one.

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More by John Darnielle

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