Monday, May 30, 2011


The inevitable second album backlash greets this one, after the band's debut in 2008 wowed and won many major critics polls, and tons of fans, especially in England where the self-titled disc went platinum.  It almost a pattern for groups with such a distinct sound and killer first album, no matter what is released, it can't possibly match the record so many fell in love with (see Arcade Fire).  There are some differences with this album, but not the kind that lead to new directions, and are subtle enough it really does sound like a continuation of the first album without the surprise this time.

If you haven't got Foxy yet, here's the deal on the group:  It sounds like Crosby, Stills and Nash, but if they had formed in Brian Wilson's living room instead of Cass Elliot's (as legend and stony memory has it).  Wilson, would have of course produced, using all those Pet Sounds and Smile techniques, and given his fondness for choirboy vocals, he would have booted Stills to the back row, and let Nash handle all the leads, and double-track many of the harmonies along with Crosby.  Follow?  Robin Pecknold is that Nashian vocalist here, and the rest of the group contribute to the layered vocals, the most dominate sound in their music.  Every song features harmonies, bathed in echo, giving us the feeling they're not really on the same plain as us, ghosts or angels or just in the next room.  Rock it does not, and you're more likely to hear a flute solo than an electric guitar.

It's the sound that grabs you, and while the words sound pretty good, I think it's the way Pecknold sings them, rather than any great lyrical prowess.  If there's a big message, it doesn't really matter, it could be Beatles covers or Anglican hymns.  Mostly the words are cool, lines such as "I was old news to you then", nothing to worry about.  Occasionally there are some clunkers, including this dumb theme repeated in the longest track, the 8'07" The Shrine/An Argument:  "Green apples hang from the green apple tree/and they belong only to me."  Add its ocean references, and this is sub-Van Dyke Parks stuff.  The squawking horns are dolphins I guess.

For this album, it's even more of a Pecknold disc, his voice now completely prominent from start to finish, instead of a group vocal effort.  If anything, it sounds more like its obvious 60's roots.  It must be pointed out that while it is a great mix of those Beach Boys - CSN styles, nobody has eve sounded like this before, so it is unique.  It just that they boldly show their influences, and obvious ones at that.  So while it will be even easier for people to understand the group, and perhaps broaden their success, they are also going to get the negative reviews.  I find this album just as enjoyable as the first, and sometimes part two isn't a bad thing.  But it does represent a holding pattern, and leaves us wondering if it was a brief love affair, or whether they will rebound and blow our minds again for album 3 (see Arcade Fire).

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