Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Opium Cartel—Night Blooms (Termo)

After listening to the new White Willow track yesterday and seeing bandleader Jacob Holm-Lupo mentioning this "solo album of sorts" from 2009 in the accompanying interview, I decided that Night Blooms needed a proper review here. The timing is ideal in a seasonal sense, because it’s a perfect end-of-summer listen. Every clear, shining tone is tinged with melancholy. The Opium Cartel takes the timbres and instruments you’d hear on a White Willow album—especially the deftly plucked guitars and Lars Fredrick Froislie’s analog keyboard arsenal—and directs them towards an orchestral/indie rock style. The songs are more straightforward, avoiding the detours through dark instrumental passages that White Willow often takes. It’s breezy and mellow overall, and as detailed as the cover art.

Some of the more stern prog fans out there might blanch at the piano-driven duet of “Skinnydipping,” which captures the innocent, sensual pleasures of its title. If that doesn't appeal, then the languid strains of “By This River” (a Brian Eno cover from Before and After Science, a fantastic record I’ve just gotten into) certainly will, or perhaps “Three Sleepers,” a kind of lullaby/nursery rhyme given an elaborate arrangement, will impress. There's some bombast to be heard on "Beach House," which, after a quiet, Mellotron-swirled intro, enters heavier territory. Drummer Mattias Olsson (ex-Änglagård) hits particularly hard here.

Night Blooms highlights Holm-Lupo’s knack for crafting strong vocal lines and lyrics. He’s given his guest vocalists—including Rhys Marsh, Rachel Haden, Tim Bowness, and Sylvia Skjellestad—good material with which to work. "Honeybee" flirts with mainstream rock, describing an inappropriate, doomed romance that reminds me of some of Peter Hammill’s work, especially in the way it transitions from verses filled with specific names and details to choruses that make universal statements: “the things we do to ease our pain are the things that bring us down.” “Better Days Ahead” is like U2 forced through a Genesis and JG Ballard filter: spacey modern rock that strains to pierce a carbon-filled sky and see the stars, and sung with marvellous restraint by Rhys Marsh. Night Blooms is a wonderful album that deserves to step out of White Willow’s shadow and spend some time basking in the sunlight.

Better Days Ahead

The Opium Cartel | Myspace Music Videos

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