With his black leather jacket, ink-jet mop top, and disenfranchised brooding, New York singer-songwriter Jesse Malin still looks like a reject from the Strokes' casting call. Musically, however, the former D Generation frontman has abandoned his former outfit's frenetic glam-slamming in favor of Wilco-flavored Americana. Ryan Adams, the genre's official poster child, lends a hand on guitar and vocals and also produces Malin's debut, Fine Art, pushing Malin's restrained acoustic strumming and pensive lyrics to the fore.
Recorded live during a six-day marathon, most of Malin's vocal tracks are first takes -- a strategy designed to lend a sense of fervor to the finished work. Urgency, however, is not the name of Malin's new game, and he mostly sounds apathetic and contrived. Malin chews prose on the side of his mouth, resulting in a yawning country honk that might be called a poor man's Tom Petty or a rich man's Pete Yorn. With decent lyrics and a handful of hooks, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but Malin's stool-sitting slackness is uninspired. A few bright moments break through the fog: "Riding on the Subway" is buoyed by a snaky solo from Adams and a tempo that dares to climb into double-digit beats per minute. But the effort is pancaked by the weight of its own pretentiousness, proving that hair-band alumni should never take themselves more seriously than anyone else does.