Sunday, January 14, 2007

Soft Collective (Animal Machine)

The Nein, Luxury, Sonic
Unyon Recording Co. [2/20/07 release date]

I wasn't sure what to expect from this album as I'd never heard the Nein before. And I hate the muddled cover [see the bottom of this post for graphic]. Once an art major, always an art major. If you're gonna combine drawing with photography and two different typefaces, you've got to find a way to tie it all together.

All I knew was that Dale Flattum (Steel Pole Bathtub), who's since left, was a member at the time of this recording. For all the effects (tapes, samples) he contributes, Luxury is still rock. And I'll always be a traditionalist at heart. I wouldn't say the North Carolina quartet sounds like the Beta Band (RIP), but they do remind me of the great Scots in that their songs are conventional in nature. Of course, Beta tunes may have been complete studio creations. It's just that they always sounded as if they'd been mapped out before being run through the Beta processor.

That said, I was expecting something noisier and more aggressive from a band with a German name like the Nein (the "No"). I wasn't expecting the stentorian tones of a Rammstein from these four regular-looking blokes, but simply something harder. I'm not disappointed. On the contrary, while never "soft" or "pretty," Luxury is the ideal Sunday morning listen. (Other perennial weekend favorites include Air's Moon Safari and Belle and Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister.) Instant good mood.

Aside from the Betas, I was reminded of Soft Machine (1966-1976). That's right: there's something rather British going on here, but I haven't put my finger on what it is yet. Luxury isn't psych, jazz, or even prog-rock,
but there's a similar sort of push-pull between noise and pop.

Like Robert Wyatt, Finn Cohen also has a gentle singing style. A little more forceful, but only just. I wasn't reminded of any other contemporary acts until closing track "A Landscape," which parallels Animal Collective at their most melodic (Tung Songs, Feels). Then again, the distance between the Soft Machine and Animal Collective--40-year gap aside--isn't really that far. I'd never noticed until I listened to the Nein. Recommended to fans of any of the artists I've mentioned. I realize I've been a little vague, as I'm still processing this recording. Suffice to say: I like it.

Endnote: Images from Sonic Unyon Recordings (2004's self-titled EP, Luxury, and band snap). The official label site includes two MP3's (2004's "War is on the Stereo" and 2005's "Faint Sounds") and a Quicktime video ("War is on the Stereo").

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