Philly’s indie-rock scene is a surprisingly tight-knit cluster of fuzzy guitar bands that generally either give people reasons to live or irritate the shit out of them. A bunch of these bands, such as the Capitol Years and National Eye and the Teeth, end up on a lot of the same bills together; others, Like Dr. Dog and the Lilys, have a kind of rotating-door membership that sees a new lineup every few years. They share influences but don’t really sound alike, and they don’t seem to be inspiring each other, at least not in a way that makes them forgo individual talent and creativity for the thrill of appropriation.
National Eye is neither leading this pack nor poised to become its breakout stars. You could argue that it has bottled Philly’s growing artistic and cultural awareness that’s become evident in places such as Fishtown, but you could just as easily make that statement about the wonderful Man Man, and they want nothing to do with most of the Philly bands mentioned above. But Roomful of Lions, National Eye’s follow-up to 2003’s The Meter Glow, makes you forget about expectations, makes you forget about Philly and what everyone else is doing. It’s a separate statement. It’s loose and harmonic and sounds like the band couldn’t decide what kind of album to make, and it feels twice as long as it actually is. And it’s fantastic.
“Ag1” is a warm campfire opener that borrows a bit of Sea Change. It mutates into the much brighter “Juno3,” which ends in a spacey bout of guitar-and-key effects before “Bird & Sword” gives us an actual song with an actual hook. “Silver Agers” is all of this rolled into one, taking off and landing and speaking several languages over its five-and-a-half minutes.
So it goes throughout the course of the album, up and down, back and forth, quiet experiments breaking into soaring guitar bits and aching melodies, the whole thing swaying and washing over in waves. Songs like “Halo” tie it together beautifully, wrapping foggy atmospheric tones around gentle acoustic guitar, drums and piano while Jeff Love’s steady vocals keep the scales balanced.
The anthem might be “Abwehr,” a burst of electric-cooing guitar and stomping percussion that builds until it hits illumination: “The world becomes the sea/ And into everything/ And no one controls the sea/ With his lies.” From here it’s almost over; it’s fading out and you’re coming down that hill and it’s only momentum that’s gotten you this far. Then the ride stops, and you keep moving.
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