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The Village Orchestra, Et in Arcadia Ego (Highpoint Lowlife) Rating: 8
Ruaridh Law is The Village Orchesta, fortunately not the village idiot. The Scottish electro whiz, part of the Marcia Blaine School For Girls, begins this record with the uplifting, ethereal touches of "COSHH" that sounds almost too sweet or high for the Vienna Boys Choir to reach. Hypnotic but not to the point of being eerie or tension filled, The Village Orchestra excel at gentle but meticulous Enigma-ish songs that are polished but organically pretty. "Jacob/Bad Hand At Cards v2" meanwhile is a bouncier, techno-tinged series of blips and bleeps that sounds like Moby channeling The Edge's guitar. Unlike most albums of this genre, The Village Orchestra does not get bogged down in the electronics at the cost of screwing up a song, except possibly for "Dawn". "Bryan's Tricky 'Do You Like the Drummer?' Question" however is excellent, resorting to the heavens while keeping a nifty, off-kilter backbeat. And if you listen closely, you can almost hear The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now" being the inspiration for the catchy Caribbean-ish "All The Little Lights Going Out" which is by far the highlight pour moi. A close second is the follow-up "Love Theme From 'Two Man Rumble'" that has that same organic/aquatic groove. The somber but extremely rich Sigur Ros-esque "Sunken" seems suited for some tragic, slow motion conclusion to a film or documentary. The Village Orchestra is a jewel in the rough, but what a jewel it is!
Golden Birds, Carrier (Paranoid) Rating: 6
Carrier opens like a stomping beast, but with an overactive brain and a voice of ache -- Golden Birds (formerly known as Carrier, back when this music was recorded) sound like the alt-rock funksters of the late '80s have morphed into some more literate, sensitive version. It's tricky music to get your head around, with the singer throwing out riddles rapid-fire, the drums kicking things forward, and then mulitple singing voices suddenly getting light and heavenly. Before you know it, the music's turned into dreamy folk-pop, but with snappy drums still. There's a surrealist streak to it all, and a softness, yet also a funk edge that keeps reappearing. It's a creative adventure, music with forward motion that lyrically occasionally reads like a travelogue, of the U.S., of an imaginary land, or of the brain of a slightly troubled artist. Then again, this is the group that last summer did an equally hard-to-fathom tour where they preformed at all 50 U.S. state capitols in a span of 50 straight days.
Alice Despard, Vessel (Wampus) Rating: 5
Many of the tracks on Alice Despard's new Vessel run well over four minutes. The problem here is that the singer's laconic style risks outstaying its welcome after about two. Despard's desperate wailing can captivate -- she's the kind of performer with cracked, hard heart to her voice that delivers perfectly her aches and pains. "When the River Bends", for instance, is a neat realization of Despard's sadness and spirit. But five minutes on, sentiment repeated, and the allure tends to dissipate. Not that there's anything really wrong with epic songs, it's just that Despard doesn't have an especially brilliant voice or the desire to thrill musically that it all ends up sounding like an overlong whine. Still, there's enough here to amuse and haunt. If only it all was as engrossing (and concise) as album closer, "Hold Me Up".
Tiny Amps, Trill & Swagger (Redder) Rating: 6
Quirky yet catchy, Tiny Amps steals the listener's heart with an earnest indie rock track entitled "Dance on a Crowded Floor" that plods along with no padding to be found. Never ripping the top of the track, Tiny Amps are content with the guitar groove that brings to mind a basement version of U2 or Snow Patrol, the guitars still perfect but very restrained. Then there is the ragged raspy delivery on "Backbone" that is a subdued Westerbergian-meets-Psychedelic Furs nugget. "Salt in the Sand" relies on the tight rhythm arrangement to carry the rather depressingly narrative. Fans of Pavement would also lap this album up immediately as lead singer Jeff O'Neill sounds like he's singing it to the bartender after last call during "Amway" and especially "Tabletalk". O'Neill isn't winning any points for style, but he manages to make the most of a rather ordinary voice with music that is quite appeasing on ditties like "Flowers of the Friendly Ghost" and the slow building, '90s sounding "Dinner". The monotone delivery is a bit much on "Zombie" however.