They're not trying to revive or update a particular decade's style of music, and for that we should be grateful. The distinction between copping a certain instrument inherent to a previous generation's sound -- the synthesizer being today's go-to guy -- and actually playing music that could have come from that generation is an important one. What Ambulance Ltd. does by way of honest appreciation is write songs that seem to never have made it out of the '70s. This is the power of the band. Occasionally, this is also the problem.
Rising from New York indie underground, Ambulance Ltd. received acclaim for its self-titled debut EP in 2003 and debut album, LP, in 2004. Fortunately for the band members, they were spared the "savoir" burden and appreciated for what they were: a band straddling the line between decades but always writing solid pop-rock songs. On New English, we're given seven tracks meant to hold us over until their second album, due out this summer. With the title track, it's clear the band hasn't lost its love for easy, Lennon-style melodies and sing-along hooks led by singer/guitarist Marcus Congleton, but they add their own brand of shoegazing spaciness. This is as good an invite to the new album as any.
And their cover of Pink Floyd's "Fearless," is perfect. It's not that it changes the original -- if anything it plays it safe -- but it's a perfect vehicle to showcase what the band does best: immerse itself in a style until the lines are blurred. This is the rare instance a cover song makes you want to hear more by the band doing the cover, not the other way around.
The problem with being steeped in the easy pop aesthetic of the '70s AM dial is the possible loss of perspective. Thirty years ago, "Arbuckle's Swan Song" may have been a gem; it's effortless, non-invasive, quick and painless. Good for dentistry, but bad for music. It sounds like Hall and Oates, Seals and Croft, and Fleetwood Mac -- not a terrible thing back then, but it doesn't translate. Do we need more Seals and Croft?
The inclusion of an eight-track acoustic home recording of "Heavy Lifting" and "Sugar Pill" (both from LP) may seem self-indulgent, but both fit better on this EP than "Arbuckle's Swan Song." "Heavy Lifting" is especially strong, combining the streamlined pop aesthetic of Spoon with the easy vibe Ambulance Ltd. rocks best. If anything, New English, even as an EP, isn't long enough. To leave them wanting more -- well, they've succeeded.
It's unfair to let one new song taint the review of an album, even if that song is meant to foreshadow the next release. If I can forgive the bane members for trudging a little too deep through their influences, you should be able to, also. The rest of the songs, even the old ones, compensate more than adequately.
TVT Records Web site
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