Sunday, November 27, 2016

It's Not All In Your Head: A Look At The New Album From The New Lines

The news that a new album is coming soon from The New Lines is always good news. The band makes music that is haunting and memorable, chamber pop for a new century even if it's tune-age that's suffused with traces of decades past. The new album, Love and Cannibalism, will drop on Feral Child next week with a digital release forthcoming soon after that. The set is, as expected, magical and that's a word I don't use for much music these days.

The line-up for The New Lines on this recording is Hewson Chen (vocals, guitar, synth), Mark Di Donna (bass), Rene Dennis (farfisa, piano, electric piano), and Davis White and Matt Schulz (drums). And it is worth quoting from the press materials to give Love and Cannibalism some context and explain how the album:

"...was conceived of as a series of vignettes concerning a child mourning the death of a companion; the child's fantasy about reviving the dead; and a series of hallucinogenic visions on religious strife and the order of the universe resulting from the child's nascent forays into the occult."

All that being said, Love and Cannibalism is remarkably easy to dive into, each cut serving up a distinct take on some familiar elements that fans of this band should appreciate. Rather than ramble on about each individual song as I'm wont to do sometimes, I've decided to focus on those moments that jumped out at me after playing this one a few times in an attempt to give you an overall sense of this fine record.

The Stereolab-like "Mass Observation" worms its way into a listener's brain with a kind of circular figure on the bass and keys, while the more straightforward "Weatherman's Apology" rings with the sort of indie promise that once propelled early Belle and Sebastian sides, or deep album cuts from The Clientele. The punchy "Ventriloquism" allows Lorelei/Sansyou drummer Davis White one of his best outings on this record, the tune positively soaring atop his precise beats. One of the standouts of Love and Cannibalism, this cut is absolutely radiant and it stands as the sort of transcendent rock that continues to make me a firm fan of this band.

Whatever traces of the Sixties you might be hearing throughout the course of this long-player do not invalidate the very modern sense of pop-craft at work here with these players. Chen and his crew are updating -- with some force -- the templates drafted so many years ago by bands like The Left Banke and The Zombies. Elsewhere, on the space-y "The Phylactery's Lesson", the band engage in the sort of propulsive workout that populated so many Pram releases a few decades back. More direct than it is experimental, the song feels like a bold step in a new, slightly jazz-y direction for The New Lines. "It's Not All In Your Head" recalls the Silver Apples should they have aimed more squarely for the Top 40, the various effects here only augmenting what is a fine, fine piece of song-writing. The title cut nods again in the direction of Sixties pioneers like The Left Banke, while the lovely "Johnny Appleseed" unfurls precisely after Chen's Robin Guthrie-ish opening guitar figure. Here, it's Lake Ruth player Schulz's turn to draw attention to the drums which beat with a kind of heaviness that keeps the song from becoming something too ethereal. Love and Cannibalism closes with the superb "The Fateful Exposition of Captain Socko", all Dots and Loops-era Stereolab hooks dressed up in a more deliberate, less obfuscated, presentation.

At their very best, The New Lines are capable of making some of the most distinctive music you are likely to hear in this decade. And if on first glance Love and Cannibalism seems an arty proposition, the reality is that this music is remarkably accessible and direct. The frilly trappings -- for lack of a better term -- only embellish what's here. And if the tune-age is bolstered significantly by the bits that feel like Sixties chamber pop, the songwriting is of such a high quality, the melodies so sharp throughout, that the material never feels on the verge of getting subsumed in the musical trappings that abound on this release. This is, to state it again, remarkably precise music where every piece of instrumentation, every effect, has a purpose in conveying the overall power of the individual compositions. Superbly realized, confidently played, and incessantly tuneful, Love and Cannibalism is perhaps the best album from The New Lines so far.

Love and Cannibalism is out Friday via Feral Child in a limited edition. Digital versions available at the usual places. More details via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited band photo from the band's Facebook page]