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Music

Dora Flood: Highlands

Jason MacNeil

Dora Flood

Highlands

Label: Elephant Stone
US Release Date: 2004-08-24
UK Release Date: Available as import
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San Francisco's Dora Flood made one giant leap for psych-cum-chamber-pop-listening mankind with its last effort, Welcome. The record garnered strong reviews for its lyrics, as well as its larger-than-life approach to each song. But like anything else, it's a case of what have you done for me lately (sorry if Miss Janet's tune is in your head now). Back with a fifth album that, according to press notes is supposedly a cross between The Beach Boys and Echo and the Bunnymen, Dora Flood should do well as long as they just don't fix what isn't broken.

Lead singer and braintrust Michael Padilla paints a warm and lush picture right off the bat with "Stargazing", his hushed voice setting the tone for this lo-fi yet dreamy pop song. Although the vocals are muddled behind a cheap vocoder that Cher might even bypass, the song's strength lies in its charm. "I keep wondering if it's going to last", Padilla sings as the tune moseys along, building block by meticulous block in the vein of a tranquilized Stone Roses or comatose Primal Scream. It's almost putting you to sleep in the best way possible before a rather bluesy, fuzzed out guitar solo comes in to open your eyes. More synthesized and less organic is "The View", which is quite bizarre in instances as the vocals are again somewhat buried in this Brit-pop or Blur-esque Beatles approach. The high notes are similar to current faves The Delays, but overall it's another keeper that saunters along with a spring in its sonic step. The biggest problem has to be how abruptly it ends, as if the song was neutered halfway through.

It's not enough to stifle the momentum, as "Throwing Wishes" has a lot in common with Ian McCulloch and company, coming off darker and more morose as Padilla talks about the nation at your feet. Dora Flood's assets come to the fore, as the tune is neither sparse nor extremely busy, reaching a happy medium that should leave smiles all around. It gets mired in a psychedelic Pink Floyd-like bridge that seems to soar and be stuck simultaneously. Nonetheless, "Phantasm" is phan-tastic, a combination of Belle and Sebastian's smarts colliding alongside the summer breezy pop of Velvet Crush or Big Star. "The truth is I miss my life", the lyric goes before moving into a lovely Byrdsian folk-pop style that oozes with jangle.

At times Dora Flood is caught doing one too many things, resulting in a tune or two that are a bit of a mess. "Two Passing Shadows" is an example of such, as a pedal steel guitar vies for dominance over a rather inane synthesizer or keyboard, sort of like laser beams shooting across the sky, like Spiritualized if they were based out of Phoenix or Utah. The vastness of the tune doesn't mesh with the occasionally dreamy verse and chorus. By the time the song is over, five minutes later, you get the feeling that it was a breather or filler number. More structured and focused is the melancholic "Experimental Phase", a cross between The Smiths and Pulp, if that's possible. The music also sets a cinematic backdrop, making it quite alluring. It makes the subsequent "Where You Belong" seem wasted as the Sloan-ish sing-along style is solid but obviously pales in comparison to the previous track.

Some albums also peter out by this time, giving the listener about 30 good minutes and then roughly 10 to 15 that have you scratching your head. "Evening on My Mind" isn't like that at all. The song is a combination of Metric-meets-Joy Division, somewhat monotone but with ample substance driving it to its hypnotic, trance-like coda. Ditto for the glowing "For a Moment" which gets into a U2 arena rock-ish mold if only for a few fleeting seconds. It is primarily Byrds or Petty on a good day, with sweet sugar-coated harmonies surrounded by some psychedelic touches. By the time you reach "Home", the flood of Dora has washed over you quite nicely!

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