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Original Release Date: 02/21/2012
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Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Label: Merge Records

There is no denying the artistic quality of this set. Additionally, the sound is unique. Perhaps, though, it works better as a concept or a couple songs than a whole album. The main reason is that there’s not much variation in tempo or volume level here. Even when it does change pace, it typically goes from slow to very slow. There is a bit of a “novelty” feeling to the retro concepts here. That sort of novelty feeling doesn’t hold up for a whole disc, though. Combining that with the lack of real dynamic diversity and this becomes a great artistic endeavor with some strong music that tends to drag and feel a bit monolithic as it continues.

If one missed the “f-bomb” in the opening line of “If Not I’ll Just Die,” it might be possible to imagine that it’s some long lost old crooner song. The music has a very symphonic texture, like old jazz vocalist backdrops and the singing resembles that, too. “2B2” is a slow moving number that has a mellow and atmospheric alternative rock element. In some ways it feels a bit like Radiohead meets shoegaze music because of the slow staid approach. There is some pretty and delicate instrumental work later in the piece, though, landing it pretty thoroughly in a modern progressive rock territory.

While the vocals on “Gone Tomorrow” don’t feel like Cat Stevens, the musical arrangement seems like something that might have been featured on one of his 1970s albums. It’s old fashioned, but quite cool. There are hints of psychedelia and even progressive rock in the mix. That’s particularly true of the instrumental section thatemerges later in the piece.

“Mr. Met” starts with a very symphonic arrangement and then turns towards 1960s rock with some country and jazz built into the mix. It’s another slow and mellow and melodic piece of music. The vocals here convey that Cat Stevens kind of vibe again. “Gar” has a vintage progressive rock meets soft jazz approach. The cut is an instrumental and has some great musical textures and layers of sound.

As slow as most of the music here is, it’s hard to believe that they slow it down even more for “Nice Without Mercy.” It’s almost glacially paced and quite mellow. There’s a folk music meets progressive rock sound to it, perhaps a bit like The Strawbs, with more of that Cat Stevens element in the mix. The 1960s slow pop vibe is all over “Buttons.” Again, it’s slow and mellow and feels a bit like some of the early Moody Blues music mixed with some folk rock. “The Good Life (Is Wasted)” feels even more dated. There are hints of country and a real old fashioned pop music vibe is all over it. “Kind Of” is even slower and mellower and more dated.

“Betty’s Overture” is another instrumental and one of the best cuts on the disc. It is quite progressive rock oriented, while still maintaining the general tone of the release. It’s one of the most dynamic and impressive pieces of music of the whole set. “Never My Love” end the disc, and that might not have been the best choice. It’s one of the slowest cuts of the whole set and in some ways resembles The Moody Blues’ “Isn’t Life Strange?” It’s a good piece of music, just a bit too low-key to end the set in a dramatic way.

This album is full of some strong and very creative music. The sound is unique. It’s just that there aren’t enough variations here to hold the interest from beginning to end. For that reason, it’s probably better taken in small dosages or left playing in the background than it is for a full intent listening experience.

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