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Bottom of the Hudson - Fantastic Hawk

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Artist: Bottom of the Hudson

Album: Fantastic Hawk

Label: Absolutely Kosher

Review date: Jul. 24, 2007

Eli Simon's Bottom of the Hudson has been kicking around for a while now, first in suburban Virginia, then onto to Philadelphia where he recruited most of his current band, and finally to Brooklyn (though the band's still in Philly). You'd think he would have been perfectly at home in Philadelphia, though, given the similarities between his pristine, lightly psychedelicized pop and that of bands like The Lilys and Mazarin. Yet you could also draw comparisons to bands from much further away, specifically Flying Nun mainstays like the Clean and the Bats in the shimmery layers of strummed guitars, or to XTC with its most whimsical, lilting melodies. But wherever Simon belongs, Fantastic Hawk is clearly his best album yet, taking the lo-fi aesthetic of Holiday Machine a gentle notch higher.

This is BoTH's second full-length and third record counting the Holiday Machine EP. It is more or less bracketed by "Fantastic Hawk" and "Fantastic Return" (there's one song after "Return"), two luminous treatments of the same melody. The first is diaphanous, nearly see-through, with dreamy descanting vocals drifting over one another and little threads of glockenspiel and clarinet running through the texture. Later, the same song turns more muscular, slowed down a hair and transmuted into rock with dense guitar and drums. Most of the songs in between fall somewhere in between these two poles, not quite as feathery delicate as the opener but also not quite as anthemic as the penultimate track.

Indeed the best of these songs fall almost precisely in the middle, wistful pop melodies braced by medium-paced drum beats and laid back guitar riffs. "Handwriting" underscores fragile melodic runs with fuzzed guitars and rowdy, snare-heavy fills; the chorus about a girl "with the pretty handwriting" is gentle and ruminative and just a bit sad. "Suffering Time", which has a pretty strong XTC vibe, leans on the power chords and rocks a little harder, but even here, you're more likely to fall into a daydream than start playing the air drums. All these songs are about twentysomething preoccupations like missed connections, personal stasis and stalled romance. The lyrics flicker in and out of the mix, but it's the music that perfectly captures the sweet-sad inertia of Sunday afternoons falling in and out of love.

This album will sneak up on you. There's no "a-ha" moment, more a gradual realization that you've listened to it five times in a row without stopping and you wouldn't mind one more spin at all.

By Jennifer Kelly

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