[13 May 2003]
The Absinthe Blind are as British as an American band can sound like. With a lush, quasi-symphonic approach and sweeping waves of guitars, the sibling trio of Adam, Erin, and Seth Fein have made a lot of heads turn. And with this new disc, the Chicago area band only heightens that assessment. Coming off as a cornucopia of Doves, Spiritualized, Radiohead and even traces of Pink Floyd, Absinthe Blind are trying to figuratively run rings around its counterparts. Plus the fact the group had Keith Cleversley, who produced Spiritualized, produce this album makes it all the more credible.
Beginning with “The Break (It’s Been There All This Time)”, the atmospheric nature of the album takes hold. “In dreams, it’s one way trip to devotion”, sings Adam Fein with help from Erin Fein. With a melodic bass line and keyboards that appear to have descended from the clouds, it’s difficult to find fault with the opening track. Even more noticeable is how refined and polished the guitar solos are, each note as important as its predecessor. It’s theatrical without giving that impression. “Shields” is more of an acoustic-oriented sound before being engulfed in a gorgeous wall of sound, resembling Sigur Ros on crystal meth. The tune never loses steam either, which is hard to achieve with such a rich noise. “To Forgive Your Enemies” begins almost seamlessly from the previous track, but is basically an interlude or filler piece.
One turn in the album occurs during “Bands 1”, which brings to mind Depeche Mode in its heyday, a slow and deliberate electronic sound affected by layers of synthesized samples. Unlike the other songs, which build a tremendous amount of flow, this effort is a tad choppier, diving into a trumpet and ‘70s prog sound after two minutes before heading back to its original stomping sounds. “Inside My Mirror” gives off a sense of urgency between plucks of cello. The strings tend to dominate the arrangement though, weakening the song ever so slightly. Here Absinthe Blind tend to go directly from point A to point B instead of making a few twists along the way. The guitar solos are impressive though.
“Walls Covered in Hope” has Erin Fein taking lead vocals, a fragile and sultry performance that brings to mind a mix of Bjork and Stereolab. It’s not as intense as the rest of the album, but comes as a quasi-breather or reprieve from this grandiose music. The alternative rock ending with an intricate amount of Pulp-like guitar brings the album back up to its rightful place. “Do You Know What You Mean To Me” is generally a minimal instrumental as the title is repeated. But after three minutes of monotony, Absinthe Blind up the ante, making something out of seemingly nothing. The album’s tongue-in-cheek moment comes during “The Dreamers Song”, a Beatles arrangement which starts off saying as much. “It’s our turn to write the Beatles song / So you can sing along”, Adam Fein utters before the “Strawberry Fields” homage is paid.
“Ease the Curtain Down” is the type of song Travis frontman Fran Healy is trying to pen as we speak (well, okay, as you read). An acoustic dream pop tune that sounds effortless, the Fein harmonies are definitely a keeper on this track. The homestretch includes the first “fused” track, “She Saves/Now I’m Where I Need to Be”. Brooding and bruising from the onset, this seems very contrived and a forced effort. Nonetheless the song does settle down somewhat. The second portion takes things down a notch or four, evening out the overall nine-minute effort. Closing with “Bands 2 (or Bands II)”, the group has made one great album, one that might be sadly forgotten about for year-end lists though.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/absintheblind-rings/