These days, it seems that if your band’s not firing the second guitarist and writing songs founded on audacious power riffs that enhance barely articulate vocals sung with the exact balance of straining and screaming, it’s doing just the opposite. The other major trend, which has been meandering around like a dense fog, is to raid your attic for anything noise maker and recruit some friends to get up on stage to play. Typically the result has been flimsy, gentle whisper-rock that mixes the antiquity of a string section with the modernity of a synthesizer.
The Reindeer Section has such predilections toward the mopey drone and has infused its music-for-wallflowers with infectious aesthetics. Essentially, Gary Lightbody, frontman of Snow Patrol, crowded his stage — or in this case, his studio — with fellow Glaswegian music-types. In fact, with a twenty-seven-member group, swelling from fifteen from last year, he seems to have asked anyone in Glasgow who had ever even seen a guitar to join.
Although there’s no need to rehash any argument of the band as an “indie supergroup,” I will point out that the promise of genius collaborations is again a mere perpetrated front, as Lightbody penned the songs and has the only real significant presence. But alas, he was able to secure accomplished musicians from Belle and Sebastian, Arab Strap, Snow Patrol, Astrid, Mogwai, Cadet, the Vaselines, Eva, Alfie, Idlewild and Teenage Fanclub. And one thing is for sure — there will be a good deal of understated shoegazing begotten by the group’s sophomore effort, Son of Evil Reindeer.
Lightbody is still writing effortless love songs, employing plaintive guitars and pensive vocals to create an honest and tranquil sound. And they’re filled with luscious harmonies and gentle melodic hues, with muted, morose horns, lonely drums and wispy cymbals. Using a range of instrumentation, from a piano and flute to acoustic guitar, and always delicate and soft, and with breathy vocals that are have become the standard, Lightbody and company create an aural atmosphere smooth as polished glass.
Maybe I am not giving the remaining twenty-six players enough credit, but I would be really impressed with a record that actually made the most of the proven talents of the rest of the Section. I would have almost preferred that the record sound not nearly as clean or cohesive, that the Section instead crumbled under the tension from so many egos trying to get heard. But that tension does not exist. In fact, the coordination was so tip-top and the record is so cohesive that not one song really stands out. Sure, some are better than others, like opener “Grand Parade,” which gathers inertia from an acoustic guitar, and “Strike Me Down,” which makes the most of a beautiful male/female harmony. But it is telling that, with all talent at his fingertips, the best song on the record is “Where I Fall,” consisting of a vocal track over a simply plucked acoustic guitar.
Son of Evil Reindeer is an evanescent daydream, beautiful and fleeting. But it hasn’t done anything to enhance or improve upon the products of predecessors. And with lyrics like “You are my joy” repeated ad infinitum, it is best as background music, preferably just audible enough so that words cannot be distinguished from the music. Son of Evil Reindeer is benign and redundant in its sentimentality, and it is, unfortunately, a disappointment.