This unlikely duo visits coastal California as well as a bygone era, reaching out in devotion to a shared hero.
With lyrics plucked from Kerouac's 1962 novel Big Sur, the songs mostly stick close to a laid-back country-rock formula. It's no surprise that the Farrar-sung tunes lean toward his brooding style, while the Gibbard-sung tunes have lighter melodies and an air of wistfulness.
Farrar and Gibbard land closer to a Son Volt album than one that could be mistaken for Death Cab for Cutie. While the contributions are equally wholehearted and clearly mined from a reverence for Kerouac, it's still surprising that Farrar and Gibbard even crossed paths in the first place.
Highlights include Farrar's "Low Life Kingdom," with its gently swaying pedal steel guitar, and Gibbard's "One Fast Move or I'm Gone," dreamy and idyllic like a serene California afternoon.
What the songs collectively achieve is a strong impression of how recontextualized works of art can reveal new shades of meaning. Not only does the collaboration yield insights into Farrar and Gibbard as songwriters, but by presenting Kerouac as a troubadour, the album discovers a more timeless music in his words.
It's a record interesting enough to not only spark more curiosity in Kerouac, Big Sur and the album's accompanying documentary, but also how and why American artists across generations keep approaching the same themes of nostalgia, disillusion, restless youth, ambition and the endless inspiration of the West Coast.