The Tops of Trees Are on Fire by The Lyndsay Diaries (Review)

Much of it ends up sounding like something Damien Jurado might record on a really off day, only to quickly tape over it with something else.
The Tops of Trees Are on Fire - The Lyndsay Diaries

My roommate recently asked me about any CDs I had received. It’s sort of a running joke at my house, since I always seem to be receiving various and sundry boxes, manila envelopes, and whatnot. I rattled off a couple, but when I mentioned The Lyndsay Diaries, he quickly rolled his eyes and grimaced. “That’s another one of those sad bastard nice guy emo bands, right?” he asked. “I can tell by the name.”

Now technically, The Lyndsay Diaries isn’t any more of a band than, say Dashboard Confessional. They’re both just one guy with an enormous heart on his sleeve and a hope that the world will care enough to sing along (or cry along, depending on how much rejection you’ve suffered this week). The Lyndsay Diaries, a.k.a. Scott Windsor, is the latest in a long line of “more earnest than thou” artists. You know the type… really nice guy writes pensive, heartfelt ballads in the comfort of the bedroom, usually while either pining for better days long gone or waiting endlessly for her to call.

Solid moments are sprinkled throughout the album, primarily on the western-tinged “Cowboy.” Windsor does incorporate some sparse atmospherics, which give his acoustic-based songs a little extra room to breathe. But to be perfectly honest, after about track three or four, I couldn’t tell them apart. Much of it ends up sounding like something Damien Jurado might record on a really off day, only to quickly tape over it with something else.

However, the album’s lyrics are what really trip me up. Now, I have to tread lightly here, because for all I know, I might be trashing something of extreme personal importance and value to Windsor. But at the same time, there are moments where I have to force myself not to groan out loud. One song in particular jumped out at me, as Windsor sings, all trembly like, about sitting with his friend in their parent’s gold Volvo while talking about the World Series and baseball cards (“Des Peres”).

Somehow, Windsor attempts to turn this into a metaphor for innocence lost, the fleeting nature of youth, and how people grow apart. Nevermind the awkwardness of lines like “In and out of intersections in a suburb of St. Louis, Misery/In the back back seat of your parents’ gold Volvo/We waved at passing cars and talked about who would win the World Series” (yes, the lyrics actually read “St. Louis, Misery”). On “Mixtapes And Memories,” Windsor claims “I promise this won’t be another song about being alone,” when we all know it’s anything but.

Personally, I find attempts like that quite pretentious. Eventually, the words become so intent on being nice and winsome that they slowly, inexorably become watered down and overly sentimental, if not simply gushing. It makes me appreciate the likes of David Bazan or Denison Witmer, who can take the most common and mundane of images and words and imbue them with deeper meanings. And while The Lyndsay Diaries may get compared to Bright Eyes or Songs:Ohia, there’s none of that nervous, disturbing energy that can make the best Conor Oberst or Jason Molina song completely arresting.

I have no problem believing that Windsor means each and every word from the bottom of his heart. And if nothing else, I have to respect that. It takes guts to open up like that for crusty music critics and snobs. I too have had more than my fair share of nostalgia, of longing for those more innocent days of youth. I get as bummed out as the next guy when she doesn’t call. But shortly after leaving high school, I discovered that, while those things are incredibly precious to me, they are not profound and rarely are they worth sharing with anyone else.

It takes something really special to take intensely personal memories like that and turn them into something that can move someone else. I’m not sure if it can even be identified. However, these songs don’t have that appeal for me. Rather they come off as urgent pleas for hugs and understanding. I listen for some bite, some edge, maybe even a dash of darkness to make things interesting. But Windsor is so set on being the nicest of the nice that I lose all interest. With a few more releases under his belt, Windsor’s songwriting might develop into something deeper and more captivating. However, it’s not there yet.