Miller Carr & The Shalants: Passage Through Wilderness Vol. II

[6 August 2008]

By Aarik Danielsen

No matter what its title or accompanying art might suggest (various bucolic scenes in which rays of light interact with and illuminate natural scenes), Passage Through Wilderness Vol. II is not filled with pastoral folk, mountain music or any sort of roots music. Each of its eleven songs instead leads the listener on a trek or voyage of a different type. With standouts like “Hey” and “When It Comes,” Carr and his band prove their knack for writing catchy, pitch-perfect ‘60s pop; yet the group is not content to craft an album full of three-minute pop tunes. They instead push instrumental and structural limits to create a sprawling masterpiece marked by wandering guitar lines, weird and wonderful organ riffs and exotic percussion. The record’s sound approximates a sonic marriage between straight-ahead ‘60s pop and Mutations-era Beck, executed to psychedelic perfection.

The album features some of the most interesting musical textures and arrangements of any album released this year, evidenced on tunes like “Riverbanking” (with its dabbling in psychedelic rock, spoken word and fingerpicked guitar) and “Crow and the Quail” (which progresses from ambient, jazzy instrumental to guitar rock rag and reggae strums within a six-minute span). Carr and co. write and deliver such great melodies that all the instrumental noodling never seems overly experimental. A nearly flawless mix of the fresh and familiar, Passage Through Wilderness Vol. II is a strange and lovely trip worth taking.

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