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Envelopes - Demon

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Artist: Envelopes

Album: Demon

Label: Brille

Review date: Mar. 23, 2006

As it turns out, the mundane chic that makes "Envelopes" a paradoxically good band name is not very far removed from the cultivated insouciance that makes Envelopes a good band. Swedish and/or French by way of England, they make their pop idyllic and chipper (go figure, so does most of western Europe); the trick, the compelling part, is that theirs is perfectly odd and half-assed. Demon is Swedish for "Demos," and this makes more sense than anything its English gloss has to offer because the songs on it are rough at the edges and crude in their charm. But they're fully realized underneath. Envelopes could so easily be a cheap Belle & Sebastian clone (we need more of those) or a second-rate Magnetic Fields, but they pull off what nobody remembers to in this line of work anymore: personality.

"Sister In Love" begins with some uptempo jangle and then some lite distortion and a little electric organ. Then enter Henrik Orrling with a voice like Kissinger's glasses, too bored to be dramatic and not low enough for deadpan, murmuring "If I were you'd I'd watch out / for that guy / over there." Pause, then the same voice transmuted to an unhinged yowl: "He is / he is / he is / he is / Not that fat!" Then the chorus, "Is your sister in love?" repeated six times, with female vocals and driving organ. This is half of the song. "Sister In Love" is the first single. This sort of thing shouldn't work, which is maybe why it does.

"It Is The Law" isn't much less lazy, though it has a nice cheesy synth-string lining and Audrey Pic's sickly drawl is way less alluring than Orrling's (this is also why "Audrey in the Country" is nearly unlistenable). After those numbers early on, Demon strikes up a comfortable pace — cursory and cryptic verses yielding to explosive choruses and then calming back down — that seems to suit its level of enthusiasm perfectly. But it plays it cool almost as much, and the downtime is often better anyway: "Glue" keeps the formula without the frenzied part, to pleasing effect; "Isabelle and Leonard" (the latter pronounced so as to rhyme with "leotard") strips it to simplicity beautifully; "Your Fight Is Over" is downright serene. Closer "Sotnos" makes you wish the Shins were weirder, or at least Swedish.

The appeal of Demon is in part that it builds and voids its own excitement honestly, and with dignity. Envelopes don't care if it's infectious, and they don't pretend they feel like keeping up the thang-shaking even for half an hour. This frankness, combined with the basic skill evident throughout, makes for a refreshing debut and a promising one at that — although it could be a minor tragedy if they ever make it past the demo phase.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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