Brightblack Morning Light

Plus CD Reviews of Helios, the Futureheads, and Alan Singley & Pants Machine.

Brightblack Morning Light



If you need only one summer chill-back disc, make it this one, for Brightblack Morning Light revel in hazy, marijuana-fogged grooves that aren't so much songs as they are soulful exhales. This bunch of Northern California hippies are schooled in the roots music of their native South, but apply it to the wide-open feel of Laurel Canyon pop resulting in a mood so unhurried it feels like The Notorious Byrd Brothers dipped in molasses. Beachwood Sparks references will no doubt abound, but Brightblack are less country and more gospel, with no pedal steel and plenty of hand claps and organ drips. Singer Nathan Shineywater breathes his lyrics of "wasting time" and "rainbow river days" with such a lack of urgency that you wonder if the dude might be half asleep. But he's probably just really stoned. Matter of fact, the whole band is probably completely baked, and rumor has it they live in tents (that's right, they are that hippie). While Brightblack are conveniently lumped in with the whole neo-folk craze, they seem to harken back to no particular era. Though immediate thoughts will turn toward sunshine daydreams of the late '60s, there was never an era where relaxing wasn't in vogue. And that's why Brightblack Morning Light seem virtually timeless. So put on the disc, step outside, stretch out on the grass and let the tunes just wash over you. BRIAN J. BARR




As composers, Brian Eno and Harold Budd—whose landmark 1980 collaboration, Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, is the best reference point going for Eingya—are forthcoming about their influences. Ambience is a feeling about a place, and Eno wanted his electronics to evoke rain on rooftops; Budd's sparse piano tones, the buzzing telephone wires near his childhood desert home. The sonic barrage of everyday life has accelerated since the already stressed '80s, but young composers like Helios' Keith Kenniff continue to isolate and emphasize its increasingly temporary quiet moments. A recent graduate of Boston's Berklee College of Music, Kenniff combines an Eno-like technique with electronics and a tender way with piano (last heard in the psh-psh of old keys and pedals on his Goldmund album Corduroy Road) and guitar to evoke 11 wordless, dream-drenched vignettes whose influences are known only to Kenniff, but whose details are up to you. RACHEL SHIMP

The Futureheads

News and Tributes


Two years ago, the Futureheads emerged out of a northern-England nowhere as the most likable bunch of young speed junkies in the new Britpop pack; ruthlessly catchy and impossibly compact, their self-titled debut made Franz Ferdinand sound like Poco. As their idols in XTC demonstrated 20 years ago, though, a breakneck pace can eventually break your neck: News and Tributes isn't the Futureheads' Skylarking, but it does present a much more reined-in version of the band who once turned Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" into supercharged pop-punk. The slowdown isn't a total disappointment, since Tributes tracks like "Skip to the End" and the title tune spotlight the band's unique four-part harmonies more than anything on the debut. And frontmen Barry Hyde and Ross Millard are still modest masters of melodic efficiency, never using four notes where three will do. But that knack is flattered better by speed than by range. MIKAEL WOOD

Alan Singley & Pants Machine


(Slow January)

These days, there's an overabundance of twee, sweet-faced Portland boys singing valentines to girls and cupcakes. Quirky ones. Alan Singley & Pants Machine fit this rubric like your favorite 501s. The quartet plays wide-eyed, sing-along pop, as accompanied by sparkly choruses, keyboard zoom, and multithroat hum. The whole sounds something like Daniel Johnston fronting the Polyphonic Spree, Fruit Bats vinyl clutched underneath their robes. I was ready to call it cute and leave it at that. But on second listen, I realized that there are good lemmings and bad lemmings. Alan Singley is hardly making it new, but he's not jumping off the cliff, either. These are warm, tautly crafted songs, especially the pretty keys on "Holyrollercoaster" and "Underneath"'s well-fractured narrative. The last is probably the only cupcake song to reference the Kinks, spaghetti, and cocaine, and by the final guitar-pluck, Pants Machine had melted my cold electroclash heart. MAIREAD CASE

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