Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Music Review: Slim Loris - Down to Earth

A shorter version of this article was first published at Blogcritics

There can be something exciting about the arrival of an unsolicited new album from a band you've never heard of.  You have no idea what to expect.  You know that a lot of people thought enough about what is in this sleeve to devote a good bit of their time and more than likely a nice chunk of their cash to it.  You suspect that the band members have put their hearts and souls into it, never mind their hopes and dreams.  And often enough, there have been those albums that have justified that excitement.  The music is great.  It may never reach the tops of anyone's charts, but it is wonderful music anyway. 

There can be something disheartening about the arrival of an unsolicited new album from a band you've never heard of.  As likely as not, even a cursory hearing will make the reasons you've never heard of them abundantly clear.  The time, the cash, the hopes, the dreams, the hearts, the souls: the whole catalogue of commitment is there, and it would have been better directed somewhere else.  At least as far as you're concerned.  The  music is bad and if no one ever hears it, they will be none the worse for it.

There is no problem writing about the first kind of album; praise comes easily.  There is no problem writing about the second; nothing comes easier than bitchy criticism.  Although it is always a good thing to keep in mind all those critics who made fools of themselves failing to recognize the genius of artists like Beethoven and 100's of others. 

All that said, along comes an album like Down to Earth from a Swedish pop rock trio which goes by the name Slim Loris, and it just doesn't fit into either category.  The album is quite nicely done. There is nothing to dislike intensely, but—and of course there is a but—there is nothing about it that is especially exciting.  It has a familiar retro sound that seems to go back half a century.  There is little that is surprising or innovative in what the band is doing.  The 12 tracks on the album are the work of Mattias Cederstam, the band's capable vocalist who also plays bass, guitar, piano and organ and guitarist Robert Barrefelt.  Lyrics are by Cederstam.  One track adds drummer Leon Lindstöm to the credits.

The band's website describes their songs as "a mix of traditional and modern styles that creates a pattern of unadulterated indie music."  "Slim Loris," it goes on, "create beautiful, melodic songs with emotional vocals."  This is exactly accurate, except maybe for the "modern styles."  The music is indeed melodic and often beautiful; the vocals are emotional.  There is a good bit of angst on display.  Cederstam, like the poet, manages to find the "sovereign shrine" of melancholy in the "very temple of delight."  There are times when his lyrics seem a bit clunky, a syllable off here, a phrase off there, but for the most part they work well enough.  The music, on the other hand, can be infectious.  The more you listen the more it echoes in your head. 

Myself, I have no problem with a retro sound.  In fact I quite like it.  Songs like the album's opening number "Low" are very easy on the ear.  "Blackstones" has a kind of hypnotic passion as it keeps "fading away."  "She Won't Believe" works off an interesting rhythmic pattern.  "Ain't Nothing Like it Used to Be" opens with an almost classic piano riff coupled with some string accents and although there is something portentous about the lyric, the song has a power all its own.  These are musically well crafted songs, played with sincere commitment.  If they seem to belong to another era, well who's to say there's anything wrong with that. I just have to wonder how many listeners would agree.

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