Most of the time I can tell you what I don't like with great ease. (Try not to ask me directly though, especially when I've been drinking, unless you've got a spare couple of hours… anyway…)
When I hear a bad record, it's easy to write about (not to mention fun, too!). When I find a record I love, though, it gets a little tougher. Maybe it's because while I can always figure out what bothers me about a thing, I don't always know why I like the things I like. Or maybe it's because it's tough to construct a compelling narrative out of "gushing." So for you, gentle reader, I shall try not to gush too much.
I love this record.
This may be their first US release, but Jennifer Gentle has been honing their sound over the course of two previous albums proper (as well as a live collaboration LP with a member of the Acid Mother's Temple). It helps to explain why this album sounds so fully-formed and well-considered. Jennifer Gentle love the psychedelic 60's, and they wear this love on their brightly colored and boldly printed sleeves. They capture the spirit of that time and style without cribbing too much from anyone, and make it sound almost completely fresh.
The record recalls (via the band name, which is not a name per se, but rather a lyric from Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn cut "Lucifer Sam"), Syd Barrett and his time both in and out of Pink Floyd. The feeling of whimsy with a dark undercurrent that pervades the most interesting psychedelia is here, and along with it the feeling that things just might fall apart at any second — yet they never do. Os Mutantes (a Brazilian psyche band from the 60's/70's championed in the 90's by ex-Talking Head David Byrne and his Luaka Bop label) run a close parallel in vibe to these worldly (They're from Italy… Italy! Who knew?!) psyche-poppers, though Jennifer Gentle is more apt to lean to the mellow, folky side than Os Mutantes were. There's a little garage — very little — and a whole lotta pop. As a whole, the album feels like it was authentically recorded in the late 60's (even though it sounds very "clean"), but somehow it doesn't come off as retro.
The album opens with a lazy pop song that sounds a bit like Piper-era Pink Floyd covering the Small Faces "Itchykoo Park;" it's a good-time mellow buzz. Things kick into gear on the second track (and album stand out) "I Do Dream You," where a raucous near-freakbeat song punctuated by dirty organ stabs grabs you and won't let go through its nearly perfect two minutes and twenty four seconds. Yes, that is a helium balloon solo 1:18 in. Who'da thunk it?
"Tiny Holes" and "Circles of Sorrow" turn the tempo down a bit and in their delicate beauty recall a more focused Elephant 6. "The Garden (Part One)" is a bit hippy-dippy, with bird calls floating through the aether in the intro; the song makes me think of the weird Bolan phase as Tyrannosaurus Rex — right after his mod pop John's Children gig and right before the glittery explosion of T Rex. It's separated from its (nearly identical) sister song, called "the Garden (Part Two)" oddly enough, by "Hessesopoa," a seven minute-plus free-form freakout that adds to the album's genuine psychedelic feel rather than bogging it down in pretentiousness (as those things often do…).
Things mellow out again on "Golden Drawings" and "Liquid Coffee" without ever getting boring or monotonous. In fact, on repeated listenings, I find it odd that this album is so quiet, yet so catchy and engaging. Usually the tempos have to be pumped up to keep me interested throughout, but these guys drop in a few "rockers" (and I use that term lightly) at critical moments so that the record as a whole has great pacing. The album's ebb and flow is almost as impressive as the songcraft itself, which is very impressive, indeed. The album ends on an up, "Nothing Makes Sense." This is where they get the weirdest (and remind me an awful lot of the aforementioned Os Mutantes), with this Blur-on-LSD/Super Furry march ending in a flurry of Chipmunk-style vocal choruses.
Easily one of my top five records so far this year.
Is that gushing too much?