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It's kind of a cliche' thing to say, but this is a band that, at this point anyway, you kind of have to see live to fully "get". On record, it's possible to hear the orchestral instrumentation, former Tripping Daisy vocalist Tim Delaughter's Jonathan Donahue-esque vocal delivery, and choruses like "hey, it's the sun, and it makes me shine" and (mistakenly) write them off as a twee/hippy version of Mercury Rev. But being faced with 24 people dressed in robes up on stage performing this material with such abandon that it becomes contagious, such cynicism inevitably fades away.
Still, despite paling before their live performance, this is a very strong creative release, especially for what is essentially a demo recorded in 3 days. The main mood of the album is spiritual uplift, with Delaughter offering such advice as "have a day, celebrate, soon you'll find the answer" backed by a soaring chorus of backing vocals. As I said, it can all come off as a bit "twee" at first, bu they're truly sincere about this; Delaughter and company just want to bring the sense of joy back into pop music and cut down the prevalant angst at least a tiny bit, and terrific pop songs like "hanging around the day" and "light and day/reach for the sun" find the band poised to do just that. Not that it's a constant stream of happy music, although optimism mostly prevails, there are also darker moments like "middle of the day" (noticing a pattern in song titles here?), a spine chilling ballad with a cloud of dischordant instrumentation around it that brings a mood of weary uneasiness, and even "soldier girl", which is otherwise peppy in a bossanova era pixies backed by pet sounds-ish orchestration kind of way, has a strange disorienting moment where the backing music dissapears and the vocals suddenly go through an odd echo effect.
This band has an amazing album in them, but unfortunately this is not quite it. For one, the production by Delaughter himself doesn't quite do the group justice. Although the mix isn't bad, and I understand the inherent difficulty in having to produce such a large group, especially if you're a member of the group and not at all a professional producer, the album just sounds a bit too tinny for what is 20 or so different instruments playing at once. The bonus EP that now comes attached to the album mitigates this somewhat, offering up often better sounding re-recordings of tracks from the album, including an absolutely gorgeous "orchestral version" of "follow the day". Another minor complaint is that not counting the 36 minute "ambient" 10th track, the album offers a fairly skimpy amount of music (about 30 something minutes if my math is correct). Again, this is understandable since from what I've read these were the only songs they had at the time, and the album is essentially the live set they were playing in order. And finally there's the 10th track itself, "a long day", while interesting in theory (every sound in the song is actually Delaughter's own voice sampled and altered beyond recognition) and after a few minutes even hypnotic, it's essentially a waste of album space that goes nowhere, although at least it's not in the middle of the album or something. Still, as they say themselves, it is "the beginning stages", hopefully their next release (which is expected in 2004 and will be produced by longtime Pere Ubu member/sometime Frank Black producer Eric Drew Feldman) will more fully develop their budding genius.