"I'm on the mend, I'm on the mend, I'm on the mend," sings Infinite Honey vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Neil Cotterill on "In the Garden," a track off the local quintet's recent Atlas. Cotterill repeats the line again, this time joined by guitarists Chris May and Jon Powell in a rather lovely harmonized refrain. In theory, it's a reaffirming sentiment, an idea suggested by Cotterill's opening lines: "In your absence I'm left with the hope/ in which there is so much room to grow." But the melody that Cotterill, May, and Powell trace borders on the funereal, and bassist Dave Chrismer and drummer Christopher DeMeo keep the song's beat life-support fraught, as if its pulse might not be able to sustain itself without assistance. The entire package folds together into a gorgeously desperate song of breakup anxiety, the cycles of "I'm on the mend" less a statement of emotional fact than the plea that it might become so through repetition.
Such intimate tensions run through the 10 songs Infinite Honey delivers here, which swerve from the bucolic downer-pop found on "In the Garden" and "Brother's Keeper" to the jangling, romantic jitters of "Universe of You" and "Give." There's a whiff of Paisley Underground charm running through Atlas, and the recording engineer Chris Freeland allows May's guitar and Cotterill's guitars and keyboards to sway from ringing melodies to sustained notes that hit the ears like a drop of ink in water, a splash of color that almost instantly vanishes.
Cotterill's lyrics explore a similar effusiveness, treating emotions as injections into the body and soul that initially overwhelm, only to be diluted by time's inexorable passing. That might be why Atlas' standouts reside at love's sometimes-overpowering beginnings and ends. "In the Garden" tenderly captures that debilitating realization that a romance is over, while the jaunty "Twins" blossoms in the intoxicating rush of attraction. Over a jazzy vamp maintained by DeMeo and Chrismer, the guitars sketch an upbeat, excitable melody that dances behind Cotterill's clumsily cute come-ons: "Because all I want to do is try and make you smile/ and all I want to do is see you once in a while." That is the fumbling fast talk of a guy saying anything to keep the object of his affection listening instead of walking away, but every once in a while there is something endearing in somebody betting everything on the long shot that out-of-control sincerity might make cliches something more. ()
Infinite Honey plays a cassette-release show Oct. 4 at Club K at 9 p.m. with Vayda, Sea Couch, and Dead Drums.