Pete Krebs & the Gossamer Wings

I Know It By Heart

Portland guitarist Pete Krebs has a fairly diverse résumé: punk-pop with the bands Hazel and Thrillhammer, semitrad bluegrass with Golden Delicious, and wonderfully oddball mutant blues/folk/country with Bad Livers main man Danny Barnes. I Know It By Heart, his fifth platter under his own name, can be filed under rockin' sophisticated singer/songwriter excellence, old-school division -- as exemplified by Ray Davies, Elvis Costello, and Ron Sexsmith.

Krebs knows how to employ a hook, as almost every track on I Know It By Hearthas at least one bright, magnetic melody. As for his lyrics, they're wry, laconic observations on the complexities of romantic relationships, tempered by compassion and resignation and sung in a plain-spoken manner, sounding a bit like Morrissey if he had come from the Midwest. Stylistically, Krebs is as much a pop encyclopedia as the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt, with a similar sense of the barbed turn of phrase, but where Merritt can be smug and aloof, Krebs sounds pensively down-to-earth. And it's a mark of true coolness that he doesn't feel the need to show the listener how clever he is.

Another boss aspect of this set is its dandy sense of variety, as it moves from the forlorn pop-psychedelia of "Kid Domino" to the breezily melancholic blue-eyed R&B of "I Get Mixed Up" to the striking Beach Boys-meet-Stereolab minimalist mantra "Cela." Utilizing rock's basic guitars-and-keys setup, Krebs' crew plays it strummy and jangly, lean and clean, with nary an extraneous note. I Know It By Heart is one of those now-rare albums that beg to be played until the title's prophecy becomes fact.

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