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Orwell

Orwell

Following Days

Hidden Agenda / Parasol

French pop music has a pretty scruffy reputation, and deservedly so. Things have been looking up lately, though, with electro-poppers Air, Daft Punk, and Mirwais along with the delightful Tahiti 80 doing more than their share to savior whatever’s left — and now Orwell’s chipping in to.

Like all of those above, Orwell operate in that chilled pop setting that seems to demand elegantly worn-out suits, semi-expensive drinks and a casually sedated crowd — and, with typical French charm, still retaining both some sort of substance and warmth. How on earth do they do that? Well, Orwell’s manner is playing great pop melodies rendered with laid back gentleness and a solid sense of pure pop perfectionism that always leave room for spontaneity and melodic looseness.

Check out opening cut and first single “Toutes les nouvelles parlent d’hier,” a shimmering slab of pop sparkling with casual brilliance and easiness. And there’s a great version of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Clair.” The fact that they get away with it is saying a lot. Leaning heavily on 1970s soft rock and West Coast pop, you’re not getting rattled by what you hear on here, but Orwell is doing it with such style and class that it’s pretty hard, and mainly pointless, to argue against it. If it’s a bit too much like a soundtrack to some Parisian bohemian dinner party for some, rest assured that you’ll return to cruel reality soon enough. As it is, this is more than enough to entertain you for the album’s 45-minute duration.

Parasol: http://www.parasol.com

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Music Reviews

Permer

Permer

Summerdays Attract the Pain

Hidden Agenda / Parasol

Smooth and stylish electro-pop from Martin Permer, half of Sweden’s mildly successful Waltz For Debbie. This is his first solo album, and a remarkably solid one at that. Permer moves in the terrain usually occupied by St. Etienne and Pet Shop Boys and if he lacks some of the complete abandonment and irreverent debauchery of those bands, he still delivers light-hearted and fun pop, served with wit and charm. The title track is great, a lovely soundtrack for the late summer evenings. “Sarah” is more than a little reminiscent of Soft Cell’s huge synth-drenched ballads, while “Sleeping in Your Parent’s Bed” is a subtle and melancholic track that proves to be the album’s most impressive moment. All that, and not a vocoder in sight! Respect.

Parasol Records: http://www.parasol.com

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Music Reviews

Duraluxe

Duraluxe

The Suitcase

Hidden Agenda / Parasol

Wide-open, expansive pop music from Los Angeles’ Duraluxe on their second full-length album yet. This opens in a blur of casual noise and a full-on rock fury, but the album as a whole is far subtler and more careful in its approach.

Nestling somewhere between the light psychedelia of Mercury Rev and Grandaddy (“7ths & Minors”), and the Brit-rock of Oasis and Stereophonics (“All Together Now”), this is a pretty uneven album to say the least. But when Duraluxe pull it off, they do it so well that the weaker spots are instantly forgiven and forgotten.

“Save One For Giessen” is one such fine moment, where Duraluxe touch the insane other-worldliness of The Flaming Lips. The whimsical power pop of “Sometimes” is another one, and a standout track in the somewhat disappointing second half of this album. Elsewhere, “Phantom Power” is a lovely, breezy track, with a simple but great-sounding chorus, and “Hit So Hard” is a stadium-sized slab of 1980s indie pop.

Although this leaves something to be desired, there are moments on here that are absolutely stunning, and this is definitely one for the late, warm summer evenings spent hanging out with your cool indie-rocking, magazine-reading friends.

Parasol Records: http://www.parasol.com

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Music Reviews

The Orange Alabaster Mushroom

The Orange Alabaster Mushroom

Space and Time: A Compendium of The Orange Alabaster Mushroom

Hidden Agenda/Parasol

Greg Watson has played in some Canadian bands you’ve probably never heard of, The Fiends and The 14th Wray among them. Back in 1991, he decided he didn’t need anyone else to make the music in his head, and recorded several Nuggets-style garage/psych songs all by himself (except on one, but let’s not quibble) under the name The Orange Alabaster Mushroom. These songs eventually found their way into the hearts of some European dudes who run really obscure labels. They asked for more, so he recorded more in 1998 and 1999. This collection of the OAM’s collected works came out last year on vinyl, and now it’s on CD with bonus tracks.

And it’s really fun. Unlike some other let’s-see-how-well-we-can-mimic-the-sound-and-lyrical-sensibility of mid-to-late-’60s-psychedelia projects like The Dukes of Stratosphear (XTC in disguise) and all those Elephant 6 people, the OAM shoots for one style and hits it solidly. This really does sound like the greatest hits album of a real grungy Northern California band, complete with fuzzy-ugly guitars and harpsichord solos and high nasal tenor voices singing ridiculous lyrics with great style and love. On this record, a song called “Ethel Tripped a Mean Gloss” really is about Ethel tripping a mean gloss. And everyone really needs a CD with a song titled “Sydney’s Electric Headcheese Sundial,” don’t they?

But it’s not all kitsch. Watson is pretty skilled at crafting hooks and making even the silliest song resonate. You’ll never forget the chorus to “Your Face is in My Mind” or “Gone,” and “Crazy Murray” is so unattractively perfect that you’ll use it to clear the room at parties. It’s not authentic, but your friends will swear it is if you don’t tell them. So don’t tell them.

http://www.psynet.net/theoam

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Music Reviews

Chitlin’ Fooks

Chitlin’ Fooks

Chitlin’ Fooks

Hidden Agenda/Parasol

Leave it to the Dutch to come up with a name which gives you absolutely no idea of what you’re in for. Chitlin’ Fooks is a collaboration between Bettie Serveert’s Carol Van Dyk and Sukilove’s Pascal Deweze, taking a swing at many country and blues standards (Gram Parsons’ “Juanita,” Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mississippi Delta Blues”) and seamlessly mixing in some of their own. While Bettie Serveert specializes in somewhat dark, Velvets-influenced pop (I’m not sure about Sukilove), this particular outing is most definitely Country, American. Purists may argue the point — there’s quite a bit of the Velvet Underground’s sleepy drawl mixed in with the references to the Mississippi and Ole Black Joe. But overall, Chitlin’ Fooks are a somewhat sparse, relaxing jaunt across an acoustic countryside. Van Dyk posses an angelic voice that manages to be clear and commanding without straying into dramatics, while Deweze’s vocals are a bit more on the bored Continental side. Not exactly what you’d expect from the Lowlands, but not bad at all.

Parasol: http://www.parasol.com

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Music Reviews

Bikeride

Bikeride

Thirty-Seven Secrets I Only Told America

Hidden Agenda/Parasol

I feel so lucky to have heard this! Sweet, richly textured indie pop songs with diverse instrumentation (flute, ukelele, vibraphone, organs, sax, and on and on — but not all at once!) and grand melodies & harmonies all the way through. Absolutely divine. There are songs on here I simply have to get up and dance and sing along to (“Erik & Angie” for sure, always), no two ways about it. Others just have me smiling and basking in the pop brilliance. Catchy as catchy can be without being obnoxious and as fun as sunshiney picnic days with a sockhop planned for the night. Yeah, that good.

Parasol Records, 905 S. Lynn St., Urbana, IL 61801; http://www.parasol.com

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Music Reviews

Vitesse

Vitesse

A Certain Hostility

Hidden Agenda/Parasol

Soft, synthetic pop that will definitely appeal to fans of the Magnetic Fields. Features Joshua Klein of Aden, so there’s a bit of that tossed in as well.

Parasol Records, 202 S. Lynn St., Urbana, IL 61801