The Weekly Jive

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Posted March 19, 2009 in Music

O+S

O+S

(Saddle Creek)

O+S are the gauzy soundtrack to a wistful afternoon lost in nostalgia, or an ethereal balm on fixed-stare, post-breakup ponderings. Orenda Fink (Azure Ray, Art in Manila) has her inner-voice vocals multi-layered into in-and-out-of-focus mazes of melodies, while Scalpelist (aka Remy Zero’s Cedric LeMoyne) shapes songs out of Finks’ field recordings, collected in diverse locations from Alabama to Haiti. Though the components appear lightweight, their collective effect is sweet n’ sour and mildly disconcerting: the drum loops are lonely and ominous; the pianos sound like they were recorded in a vacated mansion thick with memories; Fink’s voice wafts over from other dimensions, as much in the instrumentation as over it. Though smoldering with sincerity, O+S owe much to the wraith-like wanderings of the Cocteau Twins, the delicate beauty of Mazzy Star and—in their organic/electronic juxtaposing—the early 1990s Bristol sounds of Portishead and Tricky. Not a revolution then, but a gentle revelation. (Paul Rogers)

 

The Decemberists

The Hazards of Love 

(Capitol)

Some people bristle at the thought of being simultaneously entertained and educated in a rock music context. Yet those who scrutinize lyrics probably reach for the nearest dictionary each time this Portland chamber pop band puts out something new. You never know what old fashioned words or phrases studious singer Colin Meloy is going to use. 2006’s successful The Crane Wife was loosely based on a Japanese folk tale and had more accessible arrangements than ever. Fifth album The Hazards Of Love is quite different. An ambitious 17-track, hour-long song cycle combining folk and prog rock elements (a folk rock opera?), the main characters include Margaret (who is ravaged by a shape-shifting animal), her lover William, their doomed young children, an immoral man and a forest queen. Guests include ethereal voiced Becky Stark of indie darling Lavendar Diamond, Robyn Hitchcock, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and others. The title track is revisited several times. Part 2 (“Wager All”) is a swelling romantic beauty, while Part 3 (“Revenge”), with a choir of dead kids, has a tense, creepy vibe. There’s a recurring headbanger guitar motif throughout, bringing to mind Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh” and the ultra dramatic “Repaid” could be 1970s Heart. The Decemberists employ a string section on various numbers and tastefully color the music with pedal steel, harpsichord, hammered dulcimer, hurdy gurdy and accordion. Not for everyone, Hazards definitely bears multiple listens to unveil all the complex and ultimately satisfying nuances. (George A. Paul)

 

Beep Beep

Enchanted Islands

(Saddle Creek)

 

At last, an act to rival Joan of Arc’s Most Pretentious Gits mantle. From cloying band name and supposedly high-falutin’ “concept”—the trite-and-true clash between “escapism” and “adult choices”—to willfully difficult passages of guitar-skronk and the singer’s androgynous falsetto, Enchanted Islands too often reads like a unilateral “you just don’t get it” art-snob attack. Like Tim Kinsella’s Chicago act, Eric Ray and Christopher Terry try so hard to subvert traditional song forms in the furtherance of their aesthetic (meant to match the album’s dream-like trajectory) that there’s rarely anything organic about the process; it’s mostly process we hear. “Mermaid Struggle” provides the template, explosions of angular guitar calculus and shifting time signatures meant to contrast with the calm waters of Soft Wave melodies, but instead coming off like Hella crashing an OMD party. Like JoA, what’s most frustrating is that when Ray and Terry play it straight you hear how unnecessary all the artsy posturing is. “The Lion’s Mouth” is a gorgeous Mark Hollis-like organ blues, “Secrets of the Well” shuffles along in a nice minor-key gait, and the Soft Cell longing of “Baby Shoes” is love-song loveliness. But apparently that’s just too simple to be good enough. (John Schacht)  


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