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Album Review

THE SOUNDCARRIERS
Celeste

I know this is a music review and I should be starting out with the music, but my good friend David Day down at Jive Time Records has got me on this album art kick lately (check out his homage to vintage album art here) and I find myself for the first time in months fondling and leafing through a CD insert, looking at photos, appreciating art and reading liner notes while I listen. I won't say that I would enjoy this as much without the primo semi-psych sounds of The Soundcarriers as background, but it is, to use a phrase younger than I will ever be again, way cool. The insert cover itself is somehow a part of Lesley Coulson's Sugar Tea Cups and the photo of that work and the way the cover is put together captures what little artistic sense I seem to have. There is a flashback to the fifties and sixties and a tip o' the hat, as far as I can tell, to Columbia Records and various artistically inclined jazz labels of that period, liner notes of note (short and sweet and written nicely by one Professor Justin Spear) and beautifully done photos of the band members taken individually (evidently supplied by Justin Keeton of Image-Boutique out of Sheffield in the UK). Not only that, they carried the art phase to an extreme by mimicking the classic Columbia Records label from the sixties. Now, that is dedication (not to mention, good taste).

The taste isn't limited to the package, I am happy to say, and what the band produced on their last studio album (Harmonium) continues in fine fashion, though even more and better. Still there are the sounds that made them musically unique (the splotches of Strawberry Alarm Clock--- the jazzier side of the early phase, the flute--- an odd mixture of Satin Whale and a very small bit of Jeremy Steig, the vocals--- a male-female amalgamation of The Dirty Shames and The Peanut Butter Conspiracy in their softer moments) but they have stepped beyond. Gone is the underwater tonal quality on a few of Harmonium's tracks (which I rather liked), the sound cleaner and more aurally refreshing.

The songs? Better than ever. Last Broadcast kickstarts the album, the rocking rhythm section set off nicely by the layered keyboards and harmony vocals which have fast become the band's trademark. The rocking gives way to the still percussive but floating Step Outside and then the outstanding Morning Haze, the sounds approaching the cinematic and ethereal side of one of my favorite bands of recent years, Ophelia Hope (do yourself a favor and check them out as well). Broken Sleep is what you might expect from a poppier and more rock-oriented Singers Unlimited (in terms of sound and not presentation). Long Highway adds an eerie exotic feel, very close to what Ophelia Hope might very well do in some future phase, I'm hoping. We're not even halfway through and I smell winner. The album continues along this vein, each track solid, the sound solid, the feel solid. Give me some black light posters, a little Thai Stick and a beer and I'm happy. Actually, I don't smoke anymore, but if I did, Celeste would be a perfect choice for the turntable.

Speaking of turntable, Melodic is making this available in four different packages, from straight digital to vinyl to combinations. Now, I'm not one of these purists who have to have everything on vinyl. I am perfectly happy with my CDs or even digital files, if physical product is not available, but on an album this good and this unique, even I would consider the vinyl option. For one thing, if they include the same artwork, the pictures would be bigger and (hopefully) expanded in size, a good enough reason alone. For those who claim vinyl produces a warmer sound, that warmth would be well worth it. If you go for the deluxe package, they even throw in a T-shirt and a badge! It's like joining the Rin Tin Tin Club all over again!

You know what I think you should do? I think you should head over to The Soundcarrier's website to check things out, then boogie over to their MySpace page. There are good sounds both places and after listening you just might be able to make heads and tails out of my comments, words that only a few have been able to decipher. That would make you smart (in my world, anyway) and prove that you have a semblance of taste, something we all should strive toward.

And, seriously, if you live in Seattle, stop by Jive Time Records for a little vinyl shopping. The guys there don't know half as much as I do, but they try hard and, what the hell, you'll just end up wasting it on beer or food anyway. Shop there and at least you'll have something to take home to the wife or husband. Or, like me, to share with the dog.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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