Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Theo Angell & the Tabernacle Hillside Singers – Auraplinth [Digitalis]

This is the first time I’ve gotten a real advance promo copy of something, so I made sure to get a review done by the day it came out. Rather than mess it up, by finally getting around to writing a review in three months or something. So anyway, this Theo Angell record comes out today, on Halloween man. It seems like on odd day to release Auraplinth on because it’s not really spooky or ghostly at all. But maybe it’s here to cheer us up during the dreary upcoming Thanksgiving season.
The record begins with “In About a Half Hour”, built around autoharp, tambourine/rattles, acoustic guitar and hand drums. And of course Angell’s voice as well. It’s a nicely off kilter folk ditty with a few choice melodic flourishes, pretty characteristic of the rest of the record. The only thing I’m not digging on the track, is some not so subtle use of effects namely autopan, it distracts from the song a tad and feels superfluous among the all-acoustic arrangement. “Crows Landing” follows focusing on Angell’s vocals. His voice’s only accompaniment is a repetitive, unchanging pattern on a banjo (I think). Had the vocals been dull, the track would have easily floundered, but Theo does a hell of a job carrying the song and being the central source of melody on the track. “On the Willow” returns to a bit larger arrangement this time rattle, electric and acoustic guitar, glockenspiel and a (wooden) flute. But again, Angell is the main melodic presence, and leads the band to strange but beautiful places, with subtle additions by the various instruments. Both “Stuttgart Summertime” and “Bountfling” are short tracks based around acoustic guitar and vocal, they are both nice enough but don’t leave a particularly strong impression after they’re done. When I listened to this album the first time, the first track that really grabbed me was “Have U Seen the Birds Lately”. Angell moves back and forth between a stronger deeper voice and a witchy falsetto. Though his voice leads the track, the simple accompaniment sounds determined and effective. Basically, just a rapidly plucked guitar, a couple insertions of a slide guitar and some nice subtle backing vox as well. It’s hard to say exactly what about it works so well, but it does nonetheless. “Written With the Word” is a brief acoustic ditty, a little reminiscent of Devendra Banhart before he started making really shitty records. However, it’s the next track that everyone is/will/should be talking about/listening to.
”Apparently Someone Tried To” is one of the best rock songs I have heard in a long time. From the first to the zillionth time I’ve listened to it, the track is always absolutely incredible. It’s kind of funny, that when conventional rock elements (i.e. drum kit, electric guitar) are introduced, Theo Angell creates his most sublime work. The whole track is just a little askew, the guitars are melodic but not in a predictable way, drums are steady but not repetitive. And like many other places on the record the song is taken to unexpected, though fitting, places. One of my favorite aspects is there is a guest vocalist (maybe one of the Hillside singers) that just fucking rules! He has a great, cunning Bill Callahan-esque voice and navigates his way through the track with a strange sing-speak that, somehow, just totally works. I’m not actually sure what he’s talking about, but it sounds so cool just by the way he delivers the lyrics. Props to Theo for, being chill enough, to let another guy sing lead on his album. By the way, Angell provides backing vocals and sings the chorus and his voice blends beautifully with the voice of the mystery guest. Seriously this track is just fantastic, and I don’t feel like I am adequately describing it which frustrates me but whatever, take my word—you know I’m good for it. I keep drawing this paragraph out just so I can listen to the song again. If I ever made some ‘Sweet Stuff From Double Oh Seven’ mixtape, “Apparently Someone Tried To” would be there, without a doubt. I’d have to put it first too, so it’d be easy find for all the times I’d want to play it again. I might not actually end up listening to the rest of the tape if I did that though.
So after the profound, momentous “Apparently Someone Tried To”, come the albums three weakest tracks. “Flurdrid Mourning” is a pseudo-drone type track with a single looped drum hit and weird alien-through-a-wahwah vocals. I don’t mean to sound like a jerk, but I don’t understand how the track made the cut. It would be one thing if it was a one minute interlude or something, but it gets very tiresome after its relatively unchanging five plus minutes. “Is the Worst Ever Best?” works a little better, though it isn’t a strong track in itself. It is a vocal and tambourine duet, and it does what it does and moves on quickly. “The Golden Hour” certainly has some pretty moments but on the whole feels aimless and adrift, not quite cohering as well the stuff on the first half of the record. Footing is regained for the next tracks though. “Gardenfull” is similar to “Written With the Word” but with some really nice backing vocals which add a lot of dynamics to the track. There is also a great change-up towards the end, taking the track out on a high note. The title track features first-rate flute accompaniment and a strange sinister/beautiful vibe. “She King”, the album’s longest track, has kind of a Wooden Wand backed by a super-subtle Family Underground type sound, which is something I never thought I’d hear but it sounds good. The finale, “Forward With the Veil”, sounds similar to something off the most recent Justin Shay record on Foxglove, not one of the strongest tracks but gives the record a low-key finish.
All in all, Auraplinth is a pretty good record with many magnificent moments that will delight anyone into folk-pop oddity. I hate to tell someone else how to make their art, but to my ears, the album would have been stronger if it had been cut down to eleven maybe twelve tracks, but that’s just me. Angell has done a good job establishing is own sound and the record is definitely one that gets better the more you listen to it, which is probably the greatest quality an album can have. Oh, and in case you missed it, “Apparently Someone Tried To” is one my favorite songs of the year.
Other notables are: the album is released today-according to the press release, comes in a “heavy duty gatefold jacket w/ full lyric sheet” and was mastered by Pete Swanson. Czech it out.


brad rose said...

thanks drew! 'apparently someone tried to' was teh song that, as soon as i heard it, i knew i had to release this album. though i should mention the sing/speak vocals ARE theo (and i probably wouldn't have known this if i hadn't met him at bottled smoke, so i'd heard his 'speaking' voice. heh). but seriously, thanks! next promos i send over, i'll send a 'real' copy of 'auraplinth' so you have the lyric sheet and everything.

Auxiliary Out said...

No fucking way that is Theo. That is crazy! Man, I selfishly hope that he does more stuff in the vein of "Apparently Someone Tried To" cause that song just rules, and that is such a rad voice (and wonderful delivery). Wow, no way... Even more props to Theo then I guess ;)
Thank you, for sending it in the first place. (Oh, and it'll be cool to read the lyrics too, thanks!)