The String & Return
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The String & Return


Band Alternative Rock


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The best kept secret in music


"The String & Return"

What Cheer (Anodyne)
By Jason Harper

Published: Thursday, June 16, 2005

On first listen, the debut full-length from this Kansas City downer-rock quartet is lugubrious and repetitive, the songs a series of spirited efforts and exhausted collapses, like the process of moving a sofa up a spiral staircase. Making the going even tougher is the weakened, defeated singing of Andrew Ashby, who -- though his lyrics strive for candor -- seems stuck in a perpetual yawn. Lines such as You're so full of shit, your eyes are brown ("Brace Yourself") and I'm so goddamned tired of your mouth ("Still Proud") fall as flat as the banality of the writing. (For banal writing and masterful delivery, see Morrissey.) But there's something about this album that entices a second, closer listen. And through headphones in the dark of night, a diverse and intentional landscape appears, strewn with broken, majestic guitar and clouded over with an intense, brooding weariness that makes Thom Yorke's moping look like a preschooler's melancholy daydream.
The band's ability to lock complex guitar parts with syncopated drumming is technically flawless, but the musicians are at their best when playing songs rather than running down brainy patterns. The eighth track, "Dead to Me," is the disc's withering masterpiece, a dark rain of churning guitar and arresting melody (aided by harmony vocals) that finally conveys the honest soul-baring sought to little avail elsewhere on the album. As long as the place where "Dead to Me" comes from isn't dead to the String & Return, a wider audience will come to revel in the sweet doom and gloom. - The Pitch

"Say What?"

Say What?
The String and Return's truth is stranger than fiction.
By Andrew Miller

Published: Thursday, May 12, 2005

After six years, several breakups and some truly bizarre setbacks, the String and Return finally unveils its second full-length record Saturday at the Brick. On What Cheer, Andrew Ashby's vocals sleepwalk over obtuse guitar passages and a comprehensive collection of drum clicks and crashes as isolated riffs trigger noise explosions, like high-pitched tones on snowy slopes causing avalanches. Ashby maintains his elegantly dazed delivery whether he's making the self-evident claim I'm not trying to stir shit up or offering the less obvious assertion these are hilarious times.
Great album, but back to the buildup. TSAR initially expected What Cheer to surface in summer 2004, then revised its schedule and planned a double release party with Doris Henson in March. Drummer Mike Myers agreed to explain the two reasons for the delay, but we've added a few false fiascoes to make things more interesting. The real answers appear below.

A.) SunSeaSky, the Wisconsin-based label that issued TSAR's debut disc, Invisible City, couldn't summon the funds for a densely layered album such as What Cheer. The band relocated to Kansas City's Anodyne. A few months later, SunSeaSky mysteriously disappeared, leaving nothing but an update-bereft Web presence.

B.) The band's members maintained a running joke about whether to add a question mark to the title What Cheer. At one intense all-night session, the debate suddenly became serious, and Myers, who endured a similar shitstorm during his stint with To Conquer (or is it To Conquer?), stormed out of the studio. He didn't return for two weeks, after which his bandmates agreed to scrub spray-painted question marks off the practice-space walls.

C.) Sky-blue, crop-circle-style patterns wind through a cardboard-tinted backdrop on the record's cover. To deepen the colors, the group members used screen-printed paper. When they tried to install the inserts, they found that the paper was too thick to fit into standard cases. Having exhausted much of their budget on the printing costs, the group painstakingly shaved centimeters off each insert with sandpaper. Also, someone had scrawled a question mark in indelible marker on several of the covers.

D.) With just a few weeks until the album's scheduled release, What Cheer arrived from the mastering engineer in unusable condition. Frustrated, the group's mixing engineer posted derogatory remarks on an industry message board. The band and label sat on the sidelines as the furious mastering engineer threatened legal action. He continued to work on the album, which accidentally arrived in an incorrect format and ended up smothered with hisses and pops. Finally, a pristinely produced product emerged, several months after it was expected.

E.) TSAR's members also spent time in numerous other outfits, with Andrew Ashby touring with the Belles and Myers working behind the kit on the Life and Times. Until they finally left these groups, Ashby and Myers continually postponed practice for their side project. Guitarist Auggie Wolber and bassist Dan Weber started remaking the String and Return as an instrumental duo, writing "The Highway" as a subtly orchestrated kiss-off to their prodigal bandmates. Onetime TSAR drummer Billy Brimblecom, tired of his rock-star lifestyle on the road with the Start, drunk-dialed his former bandmates and pondered a return to Kansas City. Eventually, everyone ended their creative flirtations and took a solemn vow of faithfulness to the String and Return.

Answer: A and D are the true snags.

Saturday, May 14, at the Brick - The Pitch


By Andrew Miller

Published: Thursday, April 20, 2000

To listen to Invisible City is to enter a different world -- specifically, one where spacing between words is discouraged and everything functions at a slower speed. Adjusting to the group's snailcore sound takes time, but eventually the charm of its sleepy songs becomes apparent. The springiest tune, "Lemon Slice," is powered by a bouncy guitar part that brings to mind a sound effect to accompany a video-game character's jumps, while the most leisurely track, "Everypenny," unveils melodic elements before starting to crawl late in the proceedings and bowing out at the seven-minute mark. The vocals throughout the album are intentionally faint, and although most of the percussion parts are equally unobtrusive, at times the guitar lines' sparseness magnifies the drums' intensity. On "Picture Ends," the beat breaks into a march, setting a brisk pace while the guitars and vocals stay lazily behind. With several of its tunes nearing progressive-rock length, Invisible City requires both patience and attention to subtle detail. However, once listeners commit to Thestringandreturn's strangely relaxing world, they'll probably be convinced to return frequently. - The Pitch (2000)

"Invisible City"

To me, it seems such a shame that such moving music can cause such internal problems within a band. I say this because the first thing I learned about thestringandreturn (before I'd even listened to the disc, nonetheless) was that the band had recently broken up. (By recently, I mean that the post on announcing this hadn't even been up for a full hour yet.) Ugh.

Disheartened, I popped in the CD, figuring that maybe I'd hear something in the mix or in the sound that would make some sense out of the band's demise. The only thing I got out of that, though, was kicking myself for not knowing about this band sooner so I could have seen them live.

Invisible City is a very quiet disc, and while most of the arrangements are fairly simple (2 guitars, bass, drums), the music sounds very complex thanks to the deliberate and emotional delivery of the band. The tracks are vast soundscapes, alternating between softly lulling drones and powerful moments of quiet intensity.

Most of Invisible City is based around a more 'clean-tone' guitar sound. The guitar passages that do have some 'crunch' do so with a lot of restraint. I kept waiting for a swelling crash of guitars to come in as an obvious resolution to the build-up of a few of the songs, but more often than not, that wall of guitars never came. This adds to the 'urgent' feeling of the disc, as the few dirty guitar parts on the album really stand out as meaningful highlights. The vocals add a totally different dimension to the music, coming off like a dreamy Dave Grohl (think "Walking After You") and turning parts of Invisible City into a very relaxing, almost meditative trance of voice and guitar.

"Flyweight" starts the disc with a circling guitar line that is perfectly coupled with a circling rhythm part. The guitar interaction is remarkable, eventually swelling to louder proportions (although "loud" is a relative term for thestringandreturn). The 'guitar frenzy' here is very controlled and well-executed, keeping the theme of the rest of the release. "Locked In" and "Lemon Slice" are intricately beautiful - quiet, yet as moving as any wall of guitars could ever be. "The Rut" can only be described as intense, and even that word doesn't do the track much justice. "Every Penny" rolls along with a guitar sound that is eerily reminiscent of Sunny Day Real Estate's "How It Feels To Be Something On," while "No Good News" utilizes a louder guitar build-up that adds mountains of emotion to the song. "Picture Ends" is built around more excellent rhythm guitar interaction, with hushed vocals that accentuate the mood of the song better than any other on the disc. "Roundworm" closes out the disc with a glimpse into what Television might have sounded like if they'd have been addicted to downers - gentle, rolling rhythm lines lead the track through occasional echoing wails of lead guitar, finally winding down into the silence thestringandreturn originally came forth from.

It's hard to comment on the individual tracks on Invisible City. They are technically and noticeably different, but the disc is something meant to be listened to in its entirety. Individually, tracks like "Flyweight" and "Picture Ends" are standouts, but they lose some of the emotion and vibe contained within the album as a whole. Considering the lengthy nature of the release (eight tracks, 56:48 running time), nothing here ever drags or gets stale.

This disc is amazing - the tracks are well written, and they're arranged and performed with the perfect amount of restraint and emotion. For as descriptive and verbose as I always attempt to be, I cannot feasibly do Invisible City any amount of justice in writing. Simply put, this disc is a must-hear. - Delusions of Adequacy


'Invisible City' is a record of serene, calm beauty where instruments flow into one another at a feather's pace while soft, whispery sweet vocals soothe fits of numbing depression. This intricately woven post-rock masterpiece earmarks new territory for the label, and a direction you should be seeing (and hearing) a lot more of in the near-to-distant future. Features 'Invisible City' artwork by Mike Jefferson. - sunseasky


What Cheer -- LP (Anodyne Records)
Demonstration -- EP (Jonathan Pretch)
Invisible City -- LP (SunSeaSky)


Feeling a bit camera shy


This is no "battle of the bands"...
The String & Return is a guitar-based 4-piece musical entity formed in Kansas City sometime around 1998-99. In our lifespan we've managed to cut a record or two, tour a bit, and play many shows for our endlessly supportive friends and the occasional genuine fan. We feel very influenced by great bands like Codeine, Neil Young, Idaho, Acetone, Bedhead, Rex, Will Johson, etc.