Monday, September 21, 2009
Harmonium - The Soundcarriers (No Ripcord Review)
No Ripcord Rating: 6/10
SCQ Rating: 63%
Let’s get down to brass-tax for a moment: we all love a good runaway. Ducking out the backdoor, faking a sick day, skirting confrontation, letting sleeping dogs lie. I mean, here we are riding the crest of Foreclosure-America, Recession-Globe, Jihad-Tora Bora, Indie-label Bankruptcy… all of which are jagged rock-tips spiking over black oil and glacier-fresh water. Man, 2009 is one hell of a harsh buzz-kill. Screw it… what say we ditch our day-jobs, borrow your uncle’s van and drive on down the coast? My brother’s shacked up on a farmhouse an hour from San Fran with some draft-dodgers and grass; we can stay with them, live off the land, find some girls, get spiritual. That’s right: I’d say it’s high-time for a 60s revival! When the world’s got you blue, when the pressures of daily life corner you, take that backdoor. Revivalism is the great escape.
Were those naive impressions – captured by The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, etc. - really the 60s or was that decade simply the catalyst for every wide-eyed band to mimic and adorn their backwards-looking pop with narcotic-fueled cover-art? In other words, is Harmonium, the first full-length by Nottingham’s The Soundcarriers, a pastiche of flower-power stereotypes or an authentic revivalist record? It’s a question of purpose and integrity, one that this Nottingham-based quartet skillfully rebuffs with ‘Time Will Tell’s patient, percussive build of organ and keys that, when peaked, unleashes a molasses-thick bassline to anchor Leonore’s angelic timbre. Followed quickly by the lingering keys and sporadic bass-momentum of ‘Uncertainty’, Harmonium launches forward like a glorious hybrid of Stereolab and early, Legal Man era Belle and Sebastian. And although the sequencing proves hampered by the constantly mellow groove, The Soundcarriers hit a bullseye with ‘Been Out to Sea’, a track that, despite its title, pushes lazily forward like a humid, desert stumble to cymbal-crashing redemption.
For all the Stereolab or Belle and Sebastian comparisons in the world, Harmonium’s loveliest tracks can only affect so much as throw-back songs. After all, it’s one thing to drink from the same retro well as those artists, but another thing entirely to craft something new from the much-celebrated decade. The vocals on the rather stalemate ‘Volcano’, for example, are no easier to decipher than your average Black Moth Super Rainbow vocoder-overdose, but at least that Pennsylvania-based band is embedding hippie-culture with more freakishness than it can handle. And as soothingly sweet as Leonore’s vocals are a dead-ringer for Trish Keenan’s (of Broadcast), it’s a comparison that finds The Soundcarrier’s hopelessly conservative, unable to either adapt their muse with modern ideas or think beyond songwriting constructs that were radical fifty years ago.
With their clear love of 60s soundtracks and sky-bound psychedelia, combined on ‘Let It Ride’s breezy finale, I can’t deny that I dig what the Soundcarriers are aiming for. Harmonium is as sunny and affable for outdoor get-togethers as it is sexified for one’s swinging bachelor pad. And perhaps I’m pushing what is clearly a talented band to reach further, to surpass their inspirational zeitgeist at the risk of conformity, but a new direction, however uncharted, is always more commendable than taking the revivalist backdoor.
(This review was originally published on No Ripcord...)