Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Epicycle -- Jingo Jangle (2008)

Epicycle -- Jingo Jangle (Cirkle)

The third album from this Chicago duo picks up where album number two left off. Epicycle is a band (actually, brothers Ellis and Tom Clark) that has a psych-pop center, but doesn’t limit itself to recreating 1967 in all of its glory. Yes, the ‘60s loom large in the band’s sound, but that’s just a jumping off point for a fun house ride through an array of melodies and hooks.

Let me put it another way -- amongst the special guests on this album are Chloe F. Orwell from the new-wave-a-licious Handcuffs and the Nilsson-a-riffic Kevin Tihista. Epicycle can reach out to those corners of the pop-rock spectrum too.

Especially the turf Tihista navigates. The final song on the disc, "You & Me", might be the best track overall and it has the same stately pop feel as the best of Mr. Tihista. The gentle strum of the guitar, the jaunty melody, the vulnerable lead vocal and the pretty piano backing all cohere to make for a winning track. And that’s all before the chorus kicks in. This is a superb slice of ‘70s styled pop.

The first song on the album also starts sweetly. But the electric guitars kick in, and "8-Track Mind" takes off. It’s a soaring power pop number that hints at the grandeur of Electric Light Orchestra and Doug Powell. The song takes a fond look at the past when big riffs and colossal melodies were teenage necessities.

Nostalgia rears its head again on "X-mas". As the title indicates, this is a look at how Christmas seemed when the Clarks’ were kids. They sing about happy memories and the punchy music perfectly matches the vibe of the words. It’s too bad the U.S. is not as keen on the holiday single as they are in the U.K., because this sounds like a holiday hit.

Goofy Britpop pastiche is the order of the day on "Girls Don’t Rule My World". Over a hopping piano part that sounds like it comes from an XTC or Beatles record, one of the Clarks growls in a low voice about how he’s finally figure out how to keep the ladies from controlling his mind. But as the chorus says: "that what I tell myself/even though I know it’s not true." To ram that point home, Chloe F. Orwell provides her patented sass to establish that "you know the girl rules."

Let me get back to that growling voice. Either Ellis or Tom Clark sings in this low, spooky register. It’s well suited to oddball psychedelic songs like "Anti-Disestablishment". On this song (which provides the album with its title), Eastern music influences mix with loud guitars and clever percussion and production. The music isn’t quite arty, but it’s not quite poppy either. The key is the Clarks don’t take it too seriously -- whatever heavy elements are in the song, they are used to set up all sorts of cleverness.

I hope this review has given you the impression that this isn’t a cookie cutter album. Epicycle has a few different musical targets and shoots at all of them on this album. It works because the Clarks know how to pen a strong song, and, as a result, they know how to mess around with song form.

After a promising first album and a good second effort, this third album represents one more step up. Epicycle has found its groove and it’s pretty groovy.

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