Monday, September 24, 2007

Sincerest form and all that

I Am the Unknown - The Aliens

Essentially the former members of the Beta Band whose name isn't Steve Mason, The Aliens have a similar schizoid manic/melancholy air. The music is frequently at odds with the lyrics, and a persistent undertow of disappointment tugs at the oft-soaring Byrdsian harmonies. And yes, there's that pastiche aesthetic--scraps of Phil Spector, Madchester, funk (-lite), Ray Manzarek, ELO-brand prog, Merseybeat and lotsa references to sunny California pop spanning, say, 1965 -1978. If, unlike the best Beta Band material, it doesn't add up to much of anything, the Aliens still offer some utterly gorgeous moments. "I Am the Unknown" is dense and succulent, like wading into a room of dark, deep-pile carpet, the sweet smell of hashish hanging from high ceilings, heavy-lidded, flushed pink odalisques (male and female) draping the furniture. Unfortunately, the Aliens decide to ID tag the last minute of the song, which only makes me think of their former band's worst ideas. You know, that rap thing.

From Astronomy for Dogs (Amazon), Myspace

Hummingbird - Cocoon

I guess this is as close as you get to sounding like Sufjan without actually being
(Michigan-era) Sufjan. Heartfelt whispers, pretty-picked strings, a flute that skips by in the third act. Of course, Cocoon don't sound like members of the flock; as they say, they've been to too many churches, but never believe. Also, they're French. The song is tiny and precious as fuck--invoking just about the most fragile, jewel-like and frankly, irritating, avian and sounding kind of sorry for itself. But I like it (inexplicably). It's a sweet thing and though just a wisp, is actually pretty memorable.

From Panda Mountains. Myspace


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