I was never much of a fan of projects such as Gomez or Badly Drawn Boy, which take accepted pop structures and manipulate them around complications and eccentricities. I truly tried to appreciate what the members of Gomez were doing, seeing as they became quite popular at the school I attended in the U.K. (the same boarding school four of the five members of Radiohead attended — yes, I just dropped names), but I was much more content with my Pulp and Belle and Sebastian records.
The band, named after a rare sea bird that lays its eggs on cliff sides, has entered into this arena of layered, complicated pop with From the Cliffs, a collection of early singles and their EP (the band’s full-length, Through the Windowpane, was released in the U.K. in mid-July). Whereas Gomez and Badly Drawn Boy revel in their jam-band improvisations, the members of Guillemots instead make their jam songs available on their Web site and focus on more concise tunes for their releases.
Opener “Trains to Brazil” lets us know that the journey the members want us to follow them on isn’t going to be easy. Like stumbling into a hotel party out of Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, “Trains to Brazil” gives us a hint of a grounding pop element while being surrounded by beautiful, bizarre layers of sound, including brass accompaniment and delicate electronic touches.
The voice of Fyfe Dangerfield (nee Antony Hutchins) is reminiscent of Colin Meloy‘s of the Decemberists, but with the accented strains that we’ve become accustomed to with the recent British pop explosion. The guitars, provided by MC Lord Magrão (which I am sure is not the name his mother gave him), flow nimbly along with Dangerfield’s keys. This combined with the percussive elements by Greig Stewart and the wonderfully deep double bass played by Aristazabal Hawkes provide the intricately layered structures on From the Cliffs.
The first songs flow gracefully into the nine-minute epic of “Over the Stairs,” which, despite its length, ends too soon. Keys and strings seem to harness the sorrows of spirits, and the pianos and chimes rattle as if played by poltergeists, all while the band members seem to be trying to maintain control over a song that is slowly sliding out of their control. This is another example that the “let things happen” ethose can have beautiful results.
After this momentous half-way marker, the atmospheric elements take precedence. The final three songs hold much of the openers’ energy, but they are much more elusively approached. “My Chosen One” is a beautiful end to a record, although it is a touch anti-climatic. The players push pop music to its limits on From the Cliffs, but they don’t allow the playful and distorted elements of their music to take control. Instead of setting out on a bizarre journey, From the Cliffs has a clear destination — the band just isn’t worried about losing time while taking scenic detours.
Streaming audio: http://www.myspace.com/guillemotsmusic