Reviewed: The Candeliers: s/t

image courtesy of Activities Records

image courtesy of Activities Records

Words by Allen Cote

To say that The Candeliers’ self-titled debut is ambitious is a drastic understatement: from the very first track, “St. Joan Antida,” no fewer than three seamless time signature changes – coupled with pleasantly woozy brass and string countermelodies – signal a departure from the same old two-chord vamp, wall of sound approach often favored by self-styled orchestral bands with more ear than ability.

The ever-capable hands of producer Justin Perkins ensure that little is lost in the sonic spectrum – even with as many as nine musicians playing full-tilt at any given moment – while still suggesting a strongly analog tone to the entire affair.

The fun continues without missing a beat, kicking straight into “Jacob’s Ladder,” reminiscent of late-60s Kinks, albeit with much better guitar licks than Dave Davies could ever muster. Though there are many obvious nods to The Most-Overplayed-Decade-in-the-History-of-Our-Great-Nation, The Candeliers’ saving grace is their ability to almost instantly switch mood, genre, and dynamic (a nuance often lost on many of their contemporaries), at times blending seemingly disparate flavors of classic country and New Orleans street-jazz in with the black-sunny pop, as with the one-two punch of “Only You” and (aptly named) “Bittersweet Sounds.” Many of these influences have been explored to exhaustion by others, particularly groups of the afore-mentioned era; but few have achieved such success in coherence – at times The Candeliers seem damn close to inventing their own genre.

Perhaps most surprisingly successful is the ego-less interplay between singers Emily Morrow and Riles Walsh, trading lead vocals throughout (usually from section to section). Though Morrow is by far the stronger singer (at one point on “Corridor of Kings,” with the help of some deep reverb, she even manages to sound a hell of a lot like Neko Case); Walsh occasionally flat vocals appropriately undermine otherwise sunny lyrics and melody (which usually lead to a somewhat darker conclusion, anyway; reaffirming the listener’s earlier unease). When the two work in tandem, the weaknesses of each only strengthen the whole, hinting at the kind of beauty usually achieved by classic Nashville duets.

Though the record clocks in at nearly fifty minutes, the relentless transition  from song to song, coupled with the big, brass closer “Some Zenith Time” (one of the catchiest on the record), leaves the listener almost afraid of the ensuing silence. Here’s hoping it doesn’t last long.

Find more information about the Candeliers’ s/t release at activitiesrecordings.com.

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