Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Atlas - The American Dollar


The American Dollar
Yesh Music.

SCQ Rating: 68%

This should be an n5MD record, I thought, as 'A Few Words''s resonating ambience and dense beat-programming encouraged a swirl of intense piano arpeggios. Fitting ideally to that label’s pristine post-rock leanings, The American Dollar (the duo of John Emanuele and Rich Cupolo) split their interest between electronic tell-tales and dramatically epic dynamics… a style that befits that imprint self-described as prescribing “emotional experiments in music”. Yet when I noticed a few days ago that Atlas was actually available to buy via Yesh Music on n5MD’s extensive multi-label mail-order page, the distinction made perfect sense. Instead of adhering to n5MD’s forward-thinking ethos which seeks to blend familiar post-rock or electronic sounds with unmapped trajectories, The American Dollar act as a pocket-sized n5MD act, paving a more direct route to listeners’ heart-strings with super-melodic, shape-shifting works of utter beauty.

If there’s a problem with this approach, it’s that The American Dollar never credit their audience with enough patience to allow themselves any freedom. Each of these thirteen tracks open in beds of shimmering restlessness or punchy percussion but the speed in which many rush to overblown climaxes seems to nullify any grandiose intentions. ‘Oil and Water’ gleams like encrusted crystals, ominous and ear-pleasing, but hops upon a one-way piano route to guitar-solo excess in less than three minutes. That same fate dilutes the impact of ‘Second Sight’ and the romance of ‘Flood’, charging into volumes of layers when, at their most minimal, The American Dollar truly own their emotional narratives. Such is the case with ‘Frontier Melt’, a stunner that tightropes its sonic divide by matching electric guitar to a plateau of deft live-drums and interwoven keys. Supplemented by the twilight beauty of ‘Circuits’ and ‘Escapist’, there’s a strong case between the lines of Atlas for the duo’s best work arriving when they discard their songwriting’s extreme peaks and valleys.

Endless barrage of crescendos or not, this latest release by Emanuele and Cupolo makes no qualms over the fact that these are two obviously talented musicians with impenetrable technical prowess and focus. And in that compliment, Atlas is that rare album you could rip any individual song from, put it on a mixtape and have it blow someone’s mind. Yet it’s almost as if The American Dollar are too reliant in their knowledge of post-rock’s techniques as, one after another on record, these ideas are condensed into a tried-and-true wash of heavy-handed signifiers. By compartmentalizing the sound of n5MD into miniature epics, Atlas loses sight on any unifying mood and feels broken down by its self-imposed fault-lines. For virginal fans of pretty, all-encompassing post-rock, though, you would be doing yourself a disservice to ignore The American Dollar’s latest step toward accessibility.

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