Lylas: Lessons for Lovers

Jennifer Kelly

Nashville alt.brooders used to love you like a sister... now they want to teach you how to kiss.


Lessons for Lovers

Label: Fictitious
US Release Date: 2006-04-18
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Gentle, caressing, sparsely instrumented and ever so slightly country inflected, the songs on this Nashville chamber folk ensemble's first full length fizz with quietly expressed enthusiasm. Songwriter Kyle Hamlett consistently underplays a loaded hand, tossing off gorgeous melodies and literate verses with a studied nonchalance. His band -- brother Josh Hamlett on bass, Luke Schneider on pedal steel and Brice Blair on drums -- does the same, placing notes with care but never overdoing it. There's a lattice-work sense of space in all the songs, a half-buried quiet that makes their loveliness seem more fleeting. Even the relatively quick and upbeat "Tones and Echos" with its tap-dancing percussion and gorgeous harmonies, is airy and light and speckled with silence.

Hamlett's voice resembles Joe Pernice circa Chappaquidick Skyline, the same high-ish timbre, the same light slide across intervals, the same engaging huskiness in the crevices. That's a reasonable comparison, too, since Hamlett's songs have a melancholy directness that you'll find in Pernice's more downbeat songs; it's as if he's just talking to you about life and love, and somehow, it rhymes and scans and fits the notes. "Home and Hugs", for instance, starts with Hamlett singing, "I need home... /I need hugs..." in a purely conversational tone, aching and honest.

The album is structured around brief three instrumental lessons in love. The first, just 24 seconds long, is called "Lesson 1: Saying I Love You". About halfway through the album, there is another, just pizzicato string plucks, just 28 seconds, called "Lesson 11: When a Lovely, Young Dish Unravels," while near the end, an interval of strings and winds is the wistful conclusion, "Lesson 28: Last Kiss Rehearsal". These cuts focus the discussion squarely on matters of the heart, the central theme of the album.

The songs are all about love, but from vastly different perspectives and in slightly different styles. "His Master's Merriment", darker and more muscular than the other cuts, slips in disturbing lyrics about abandonment and spills on magazine photos. The title cut has a son talking to his mother just before his wedding, deeply conflicted about the whole topic of love. "I'm so nervous/ I want to lock myself and bury/ Me deep inside/ No more giving me away," he sings, against a flutter of airy folk guitar, instrumental prettiness battling anxious lyrics. There's a sweetness in the singing that is not necessarily reflected in the songs themselves, and that gives Lylas an interesting edge.

If you're a tweener girl, you might recognize Lylas as an acronym for "love you like a sister". It's an innocent, girlish sort of sentiment, uncomplicated and full of promise. Lessons for Lovers sounds just as fresh and lovely on the surface, but harboring adult contradictions underneath.


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