Music

The Cinematics: Stations

Ben Varkentine

The Cinematics

Stations

Label: Spilt My Soda
US Release Date: 2001-04-17
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"Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle."
#151; Michelangelo

Candace Coalman, lead singer of the Cinematics, has a pop bauble of a voice which put me in mind of the above quote. Though light and airy, it fills each of the six songs on this EP with a warmth that is substantial. Her bandmates are equally skilled and creative, with Brian Bell and Pat Partington's guitars particularly distinguishing themselves along with Kirk Bentley's keyboards and sequencing.

I first heard this five-piece pop band when they were the opening act for Paul Humphreys, formerly of OMD, at Seattle's Breakroom in September of last year. They were, I quickly decided, fabulous, with music that recalled the best of new wave under melodies out of the Brill building. They managed to avoid the problems I've perceived in bands like My Favorite and The Chamber Strings, whose apparent influences make their own music a bit stale. This was fresh, pure pop. After the set I approached Coalman, introduced myself and asked if the band had a CD. They had two at that time, and she gave me a copy of the second, Meringue, though adding, "It's hardly gold," with a smile. She also warned that none of the songs performed that night were on it, but would be on an upcoming disc.

Stations is that third CD. The newer material finds the group consciously trying to amplify their sound with some greater emphasis on synthesizers, but not at the expense of the guitars and vocals.

The striking "Speeding Hearts" starts the EP with skittering guitars and Coalman's at-first wordless vocal, before resolving into a blissful chorus. "A Nice Place To Visit" mixes elements of Euro-disco, synth-pop, and a slight jazz inflection in the vocal with winning results. The sonic expansion mentioned above is most audible on "Citizen", which begins with a sequencer riff before curving into eerie, low-fi sounding (albeit streamlined), echoey and moody guitar figures. The music paints such a pretty picture you almost forget to pay attention to the elegantly wasted lyric, but then Coalman offers to take off her shirt (the song is from the point of view of a model) and your head is turned.

Words are not yet a highlight of the Cinematics' work, though they have improved since Meringue, but that's an acceptable tradeoff for the bright, melodic and infectious music on offer here. And a memorable lyric or two does turn up in the mix. The aforementioned "Citizen" shows the dangers of growing up listening to Duran Duran's "Girls On Film" for career advice. "Where have you been, my darling," Coalman coos, and later pouts, "Don't blame me for my life / Besides, it's harder than it looks." You go on and tell it on the mountaintop, Candace Romjin-Stamos. But as though she cannot say such things with a straight face, this is followed with a cheerfully nonverbal "Ha-a-a-oh!" The dreamy "Valentines" casts Coalman as a woman trying to sustain the euphoria of the first part of a relationship while knowing it must eventually fade. "If I could freeze right now I would," she sings. Bell and Partington's guitars are the strongest feature of "Sunday Drives", especially on a neat little break and brief solo near the end. "Crashdive" is a "club mix" of a song that originally appeared on Meringue, adding samples, sequenced rhythms and synth bass to the dance/pop of the original.

In a better world, these songs would be in the top 10. Now listen to me very closely: If I have any use as a critic, hell if critics have any use, it's to bring bands like the Cinematics to your attention. Go to their web site and order their CDs. Go to mp3.com and download a few tracks first if you want to. If you live in or near Seattle, go see them in concert. Don't make them have to sway their asses like Jennifer Lopez to get your attention-and don't wait for their major label debut. Be one of those annoying music fans (and critics) who gets to say "I liked them when they were good."

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