Art Decade – Western Sunrise (2012)

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Photograph by Catherine Paternostro

A boisterous combining of towering classical swooshes, guitar roars, tempo shifts and post-pop dreamscapes, Art Decade somehow manages to be both super catchy and mind-blowingly clever.

Sure, there are times when you can trace your way back to these songs’ ancestral roots.

“It’s a Lie” and “The Impossible” build upon experiments with strings and psychedelic things dating back to the Beatles, though Art Decade updates the concept with a darker sense of melancholy. The title track and “Daydream,” meanwhile, boast the kind of hi-def, insanely sunny optimism associated more recently with Owl City — yet with a broader musical and narrative palette: something that keeps ArtDecade safe from that band’s too polite, magically twee missteps.

“Weapon” and “Kids and Kings” pull in the inspirational arena-pop sweep of Coldplay. The Boston band unleashes a noisy torrent of sound to open “Dandelion Tea,” before settling into a mid-tempo rumination that at times recalls the pop smarts of Crowded House. Some of it sounds like Radiohead, I suppose, with better orchestration.

Other times, though, Art Decade’s Cuisinart-y exuberance on Western Sunrise (issued on Eldest Only Records, and produced by Dan Hannon of Manchester Orchestra fame) leads to things that sound like no one else. Guitarist, vocalist and arranger Ben Talmi, a Berklee product who grew up immersed in classical music, adds muscle to these hooky concepts with a roving sense of musical ambition.

Every time Western Sunrise seems to flirt with convention, it’s then buffeted by swooning strings, complex song structures, riffy attitude and cathedral-shaking layers of background voices.

Art Decade keeps things off balance, too, by exploring deeply intriguing rhythm textures — many of them presumably courtesy of bassist Binod Singh, Art Decade’s R&B-stoked other half. “I Try,” for instance, uses an offbeat, layered tempo to convey the roadblocks associated with difficult goals never quite achieved. “Raspberry Universe,” otherwise a contemplative ballad, is goosed along by a series of stop-start musical moments, something that conveys a deep sense of drama.

And, unlike so many others working the symphonic pop side of things, Art Decade is just as adept at heart-opening balladry (“Breeze,” perhaps best described as a singer-songwriter nocturne), as they are searing rockers (“Steam Punk Sicker War,” which bounces along on a rubbery groove), as they are everything in between. That gives Art Decade’s Western Sunrise tension and uplift, but also a musical complexity revealed in considerable depths on subsequent hearings.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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