Picture You is too solid to float away and, at its finest moments, too lasting to fade.
The title of Picture You, the Amazing's new record, implies a sort of clarity, coming to a point where things are seen clearly. Maybe it's a command to do as much. Either way, it becomes misleading once you hear the music on this album. This is not because the band's expansive sonic textures are unclear, even as they invite adjectives like "hazy" and "gauzy", but more because they don't travel a straight A-to-B, problem-to-solution arc. The great music on Picture You suggests wandering is the only way to find the limits, and that getting lost may be the only way to find what you're looking for in any honest way.
The watery guitars that cascade through opener "Broken" suggest a dreaminess, but there's something more earthen under the surface. It is as if these songs are animals, and the echo of guitar or vocals is just the sight of their breath in the cold night. The title track, clocking in at over nine minutes, makes this much clear. It has atmosphere, but it rises out of blood-and-bone sounds. This happens out of the perfect roll of guitar hooks, out of sharp, lean drumming, out of bittersweet, in-the-cut vocals, and ringing acoustic guitar that melds with the bass to bind the whole thing together. The song opens up into a syncopated jam, one that doesn't complicate the mix, but rather lets the elements stretch out. Clean, effective guitar phrasings are on display, as keys and other atmospherics merely stretch out the shadow those notes already cast. The bittersweet feel of the song gets scuffed up as it goes, just dingy enough to know that the jam isn't about holding something precious in your hands. It's about the dirt under the fingernails, too.
These extended tunes are impressive enough, though the album really takes off when it plays with what a song can be, with how it can fit in the context of an album. The swaying "Circles" dissolves into stately solo acoustic guitar work, almost as if you're in some transition to the next tune even though you're not. "Captured Light" pushes this construct even further, as if the thicker tones of the first half and the isolated second half are two fully formed songs standing back to back. "Safe Island", one of the album's most muscled rock songs, blows out its back end into the buzz and hum of feedback and distortion. Meanwhile, "Fryshusfunk" starts with a catchy funk-lite roll, eventually erupting into blistering guitar heroics.
Of course, these shifts in structure wouldn't be nearly as effective if the songcraft wasn't there holding all of this up. "The Headless Boy" is one of the more effortlessly beautiful songs you're likely to hear this year, and it shows the Amazing's ability to out-Red House Paint Mark Kozelek while still sounding resolutely like themselves. "Tell Them You Can't Leave" whips up the textures a bit more, but still has a perfect pop sensibility at its core. These more direct structures are so effective, you sometimes find yourself wishing for that up-front urgency at other, more meditative moments on the record.
Picture You is as much improvised as it is written; frontman Cristoffer Gunrup brought the songs to the studio and the band came up with parts as they recorded. This lends the album both a sense of structure and discovery, and those two things create a tension that pokes holes in the otherwise comfortable glide of this record. Despite its one-hour-plus runtime, Picture You never slips into self-indulgence, nor does it run out of ideas. Instead, it plays with what it means to be atmospheric, with the ways in which you can expand in every direction but still dig your heels into the turf. It's an album too solid to float away and, at its finest moments, too lasting to fade.