(February 23, 2003)
Overall Rating: ++++
To say that Absinthe Blind have elements in common with their fellow Champaign, Illinois space-rockers Hum would be an understatement as both utilize sweeping guitars and distorted melodies to completely overwhelm the listener, but to say that Rings has any glaring similarities to You'd Prefer An Astronaut or Downward Is Heavenward would also be completely off base. Hum's primary songwriter Matt Talbott actually recorded the tracks for Rings but the album doesn't come across as syrupy as some of his past engineering works like Shiner's The Egg. Instead Rings boasts a very full, rich sound of otherworldly guitars that are perfectly balanced with the intricate synthesizer melodies and the crisp indie rock percussion to an end that is quite remarkable when taken in with perspective.
When putting my perceptions of Rings into words there are two things that are hard to avoid- gushing with praise and over-use of the word balance. There are so many stylistic and tonal elements twisted up within nearly all of the 11 tracks on this album that it is hard to find a clear angle at which to approach it. For the most part it simply looms ominously, like some sort of over-sized post-modern sculpture. Siblings Adam and Erin Fein swirl gorgeous vocal melodies into taught spirals that float effortlessly over the structure anchored by brother Seth Fein's percussion and Mike Zolfo's creative, propulsive bass. Tristan Wraight's guitar coats everything in sight with a hundred degrees of distinction- from the playfulness of the Beatles-y The Dreamers Song to the sticky sludge of "She Saves / Now I'm Where I Need To Be". Slivers of drum machine and other synthetic accents surface occasionally, fighting for face time with trumpets heralding, piano twinkling and strings serenading. Layers are piled on from all directions and the players never become content with one approach. The percussion is all over the map with change ups in cadence and style yet it is never out of place, never overbearing or overshadowed, and the guitars and keyboards rotate the melodic lead.
Although Absinthe Blind has stripped down to two guitars on Rings from the three-guitar wash of their last album The Everyday Separation, the guitars remain the oxygen on which the band's atmosphere primarily burns. Compared to previous efforts the band's sound is huge on Rings, due in large part to the heavy-handed production team of Talbott and psych/space guru Keith Cleversely, whose psychadelic knob twisting has bettered efforts by the likes of Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips in addition to Talbott's own Hum. Fans of the cosmo-rock game will no doubt be in awe of the album's squeaky clean, non-stick Teflon sound but the final mix combines too many elements to be pigeon-holed. Much like renaissance rockers such as Sigur Ros, Absinthe Blind amalgamate melodies that are fiery and bittersweet with rhythms that are hypnotic and exuberant and grooves that are melancholic and deep. The entire album is a genuinely cathartic experience.
Considering the fact that it is amazingly complete and robust of sound, influence and scope, not to mention that the band was already a personal favorite of several staff writers, if this album doesn't make the top five of LAS's Best of 2003 list I'll be aghast. Rings is one of the most breathtaking albums of any genre to be released in the past year and will floor fans of Spiritualized, Saint Etienne, Radiohead, Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine or any other notable band of the past decade. This album is beautiful.
Absinthe Blind (homepage)
| Home |