Friday, August 31, 2007

Little Slices Of Heaven, Crashing Down

Roland discussed Illuminea's "Homewrecker" a little while ago, and here I am to fill you in on the rest of Out Of Our Mouths.

Illuminea refers to themselves as a "chamber pop" band, which as best as I can figure out, refers to mixing a modern indie pop sound with the general style and ethic of chamber music. In this, Out Of Our Mouths succeeds - the general feeling is very close and intense, the mixing placing vocals very prominently at the front, and the modern band section (obligatory guitars, keyboards, percussion and so on) intermingles with string ("New Walk") and horn ("I Can't Wait") accompaniments.

Part of what also contributes to the chamber pop feeling is an emphasis upon building from simple classical elements - "Sleep It Off" takes a tumble after the verses into soaring vocals above crescendoing piano, coming off as a sort of tribute to the Von Trapp Family. The overall effect is very much "meddling kids invading the airwaves of your local classical/jazz station," and when Illuminea keeps the emphasis on intimate melodies, the album is very pretty, with just enough of a modern cantor to keep those of us who aren't dedicated music majors from falling asleep.

This is apparently their second album, so maybe they're breaking out of a little white box, but Illuminea doesn't seem content to be just pretty. The problem is that they seem to want to do something slightly more powerful than the endemic fragility of the chamber music sound they've started with as their core element, and they've broken out into "quirky" balladry ("Build Your Own") and by leaning somewhat heavily on droning male singers.

This seeming desire to grow is what makes "Sleep It Off" and "Homewrecker" the best songs on the album - they're the best gems amongst a lot of others with one or more interminable sections. "Living In Sin" shows this off best - a guy drones over one instrument or another, then things straighten themselves out and head for the hills (a very pretty-Sigur Rós-ish string and gently-tempered percussion swell), then dissolve into the discordance of a church's bells gone wild over what sounds like ducks quacking.

At its worst, this makes Illuminea sound like a band with a major identity crisis: "Build Your Own" and "I Waited Too Long To Tell You How I Feel"'s odd percussive statements (Woodblocks? Maracas?) and male vocals sound at best like Interpol C-sides, and certainly don't belong with the rest of the music on this album. These two, especially, make Out Of Our Mouths a difficult if not impossible experience as an album: they clear out the nice glow that you're suffused with from the first few songs.

At the end of the day, when Out Of Our Mouths is focused and intent on its mission to bring fun to WYRP 99.1, it is a beautiful album that is relaxing and very nice to listen to. Illuminea has gotten so much right with this - their core sound is so very clearly and pleasantly defined - but they have gotten nearly as much wrong.

My advice to you? Check out their MySpace if "chamber pop" sounds like your thing, and if it is, there's enough of that to outweigh the flaws on this. But if it seems too precious and fragile, pass this up.

MP3: Illuminea - Homewrecker
MySpace: Illuminea
Official Site: Illuminea

1 comment:

Roland said...

Thanks for the review, great to have you back!

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