[8 September 2008]
Delicate, hushed vocals and well-crafted pop songs characterize Setting Sun’s third release, Children of the Wild. What began as a soul-searching project for Gary Levitt in 2001 has blossomed into atmospheric pop collaborations with label-mate Erica Quitzow. Quitzow provides the strings (cello and violin) as well as backing vocals for Levitt’s compositions. The Arcade Fire urgency in Quitzow’s vocals meshes well with Levitt’s restrained, textured approach, creating sweeping orchestrations and driving rhythms. “No Devil Me No More”, the second piece, follows the opener’s almost chiding nature. “Devil” involves a consistently heavy drumbeat, Levitt’s minor-chord-friendly melody, and an array of strings that lubricates the electronic tones and blips. The refrain empties into a space/time-traveling gamma ray, giving way to the gritty, alt-country “How Long”.
Levitt has lived in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and he infuses his music with moods and sounds associated with each locality. Hints of Setting Sun’s San Francisco-brewed debut (the appropriately titled holed up) appear in its lo-fi, homemade setting with artsy merit. As evidence, the record was made in Levitt and Quitzow’s shared home studio, a 19th century Victorian house. “Slob” features some of these aspects as it begins with a minimal string of acoustic guitar notes. The found sounds of summer’s nighttime bugs begin and end the piece, leaving another homemade mark. Levitt’s airy and echoing vocals whisper against the light sound. Quitzow starts a marching rhythm on drums as Levitt’s voice gains more and more reverb. The strings punctuate ends of phrases, before expanding into an electronic and organic slurry of ingredients.
New York’s dirtiness can be found in the textures Levitt incorporates. His vocals have a rusty and hazy quality as he croaks when his throat tightens. Quiztow’s backing vocals, rather than blending with Levitt’s part, separate and distinguish themselves from it. There remains an edge to even the quaintest lullabies. “Love My Love” pairs soft vocal touches with Quiztow’s elegant soprano musings. Her high-pitched tones accent pieces rather than acting as part of the main melody. Lofty guitar joins subtle cymbals, the ever-present snare drum, and dental-drill Pro-One Synth (by Lawrence Roper).
Los Angeles’ sunny side shows through in such songs as “Happy Joy”, an almost obnoxious tune that brings to mind the antics of Ren and Stimpy. The broken and pulsing aspects of the song seem almost elementary when Quiztow’s strings attempt to sew the song into something more contained. “Overjoyed” brings bright and cheerful guitar riffs while Levitt and Quiztow’s mostly unison vocals contain an effervescent energy. Of course, also included in the piece are hints of texture and grime, found in the form of the incessant chucking guitar, Quiztow’s plowing kick drum, and rough-edged violin cutting through the mix. And lastly, the San Fran quirks of such lines as “I’m building a tower / It’s made of pillows” show the influences of the big three cities. Which leaves just one question: where will Levitt live next?