Acrylics | Lives and Treasure (Friendly Fire/Hot Sand)

Itcd acrylics’s wholly modern, but doesn’t sound compressed beyond recognition for the earbud age.

 

 

 

Here’s music that wouldn’t be out of place, and that you wouldn’t mind in the slightest hearing, playing over the PA at the Gap. That’s not a backhanded swipe, either; there’s a certain classic style and attractive restraint at play with these songs. Think hip, but not hipster. I think they’d get a few sneers from the hardcore ironic-mustache contingent, really.

These guys deal in snazzy, urbane tunes. “Molly’s Vertigo” snaps along with an irresistibly effortless rhythm; it’s cool, but stops short of cooler-than-thou, in a Blondie-goes-Motown kind of way. “Nightwatch” tunnels into a little vein of in-vogue’70s smooth-jazz pop, saying “thanks but no thanks” to saxophones, and instead using chiming 12 string guitar and piano to great effect. “Counting Sheep” switches on to the digi-pop of Bright Eyes’ Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, only with a little more soft rock and a little less gritty inscrutability. In fact, whenever Jason Klauber sings, he lends Conor Oberst indie-folk vibes to the mix, including John Lennon overtones on the reverb-heavy, acoustic guitar ballad “It’s Cool Here.” Molly Shea’s tandem vocals offer welcome insulation to an otherwise cavernous tune. The harmony is used again to great effect in the charming “Tortoise Shell Shades,” a track that’s one half ‘60s boy-girl folk duo and half countrypolitan tear-jerker. The male/female vocal back-and-forth is well-utilized, mixing naturally and refusing to succumb to She & Him style smarm.

The title track is a bonanza: ’80s AOR rock guitars; a collar-up noir beat; an earworm melody; synth bloops & swirls; more fantastic vocal flirting between Shea and Klauber. It plays so well into album-closer “The Catacombs,” which feels so airy and stately that it could at any moment float away, as if tied to a raft of helium balloons. Incidentally, this is a fantastic sounding record—clear, spacious, and well-defined. It’s wholly modern, but doesn’t sound compressed beyond recognition for the earbud age. Witness how the production enhances the way Shea slyly wraps her voice around “Sparrow Song.”

Acrylics’ willingness to embrace a fluid sound could make for an ultimately disjointed and off-putting experience, and there are moments where Lives does feel a bit like two albums in one, running parallel to each other, a la Double Fantasy. But repeated listens convince you that the various flavors not only play nice together, they actually melt into each other with pleasing ease. B | Mike Rengel

RIYL: Air, if they were American; somehow managing not to get run over by fixed gear cyclists in Williamsburg and/or the Mission; John Lennon’s solo output; Bright Eyes’ Digital Ash in a Digital Urn; New Urbanism

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