It is a story as old as time. Young band develops local following. Band signs to big label, hoping for national success. Music-industry monkeyshines suspend band in creative limbo. Tragedy ensues.


Okay, perhaps "tragedy" is a bit of an overstatement. Tim Seely may have titled his debut solo album Funeral Music, but considering the protracted period his former ensemble Actual Tigers spent in record-biz purgatory (eking out one album, Gravelled & Green in 2001, along the way), the fact he came out the other end of the machine intact is reason enough to celebrate.

Seely—who headlines at the Crocodile this Friday, September 22—has always earned kudos for his guitar playing, and the 10 originals (plus a Thinking Fellers Union 282 cover) on the self-released Funeral Music bear that out, from the title tune's nimble picking to the luminous vapor trails of "On Film I Play Myself." But stellar musicianship is only one of the strengths on display here. His succinct yet mysterious lyrics also distinguish the set, from memorable couplets ("We are plucked and lost, mismatched socks/Good songs through crap microphones") to whole songs ("Trucker's Lullaby," a strangely soothing tale of vehicular suicide).

"Being in other bands was a good trial run, figuring out what sort of things lend themselves to more subtlety," says Seely of his experiences to date. "And it allowed me to mature as a songwriter. A lot of the same melodic aspects are there on this record, but with more attention to detail in the lyrics. That's the main thing."

Odd electronic textures are sprinkled throughout the new compositions, too; combined with the stellar songwriting and Seely's world-weary singing style, the overall sound evokes comparisons to Sparklehorse.

"I wanted to feel free to use technology, but not in any hip or trendy way," says Seely. "I surrounded myself with weird toys and cheap-sounding electronics, things that have similar textures to other instruments, where, if you were doing things by the book, you might have reached for an accordion or an organ... but I wanted to take the music to another place, without making it seem like, 'Whoa, this is some new electronic-folk thing.'"

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Recording began in Oxford, Mississippi, with Dennis Herring (who worked on Gravelled) producing, and was finished by Seely alone in Seattle. The process—despite taking many months—proved to be more pleasant this time around. "There wasn't the same pressure as with the Actual Tigers record, which was made under the watchful eye of a major label," he admits. "This time, I was able to be more creative sonically."

Ultimately, despite its dire title and often somber lyrics, Funeral Music is about rebirth; Tim Seely learned to make music again—by himself, if necessary. "I acquired some gear at home, and learned that I can do it, without the aid of other people. It's nice to have collaborators sometimes, but I don't need a label funding me in order to make an album. I can do it in my basement."