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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Got your picture in the magazine

Here's how a few records get introduced around our neighborhood (cyber and physical). Chris posted a write-up/MP3 on Denmark's Figurines recently and Jason took a listen. Liking what he heard, he bought the band's second full-length, Skeleton. After playing it for me and Taylor on our way back from a party (in which Chris was one of the guests) and getting a little lost, I heard a handful of tracks. So, over the weekend I burned a copy of it and now I can't stop listening to these guys.

Let me get this comparison out of the way first: singer/guitarist Christian Hjelm has a singing voice that recalls Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock and Built to Spill's Doug Martsch. In other words, it's high-pitched and a little nerdy-sounding, but very melodic and colorful at the same time. There are times that he sounds like a dead ringer for those guys, but since I don't mind Brock's or Martsch's voices, I don't mind Hjelm's.

Musically, the majority of Skeleton is happy and snappy tunes that are catchy as hell. I've had "Ambush"'s chorus line of "Got your picture in the magazine" stuck in my head for the last few days. There are a handful of these kinds of songs on here, but the differently paced ones help make the album a multi-level experience. A banjo on the midtempo "Ghost Towns," a solo piano and voice on opener, "Race You," the chiming guitar breakdown in "Other Plans," the restrained album closer, "Release Me on the Floor," and all with piano and keyboards on a number of songs, this makes for a very sparkly record.

Overall, the way this record sounds reminds me of Built to Spill's There's Nothing Wrong With Love. This is higher than lo-fi, but it's definitely not hi-fi gloss. The instrumentation is sparse, and there aren't a lot of overdubs, but the songs are all the better. Overdubs are good in general as they augment songs, but if the songs are great in a stripped-down light, the fewer overdubs, the better.

Finally, I doubt this record will blow a lot of people away like something like Sufjan Stevens' Illinois. The Figurines' music might come across to people as a little too fast for their taste, but this ain't no mall punk, rehashed post-punk or indie rock tablescraps. This is the kind of rock music that reminds me how simple things can be constructed while also being so multi-faceted.

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