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Speck Mountain - Summer Above

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Artist: Speck Mountain

Album: Summer Above

Label: Burnt Brown Sounds

Review date: Oct. 3, 2007

If there ever were a song for lying in bed and refusing to get up, it's Speck Mountain's "Girl Out West." It starts in slow splayed guitar chords, struck then allowed to die away gradually in the space between thoughts. There are distant bass notes, for all the world like the heartbeat in your ear when you're lying perfectly quiet. And then there's Marie-Clare Balabanian's voice, gently surreal, the sort of angelic tone you hear when you're not sure whether you're awake or asleep.

Like the rest of Speck Mountain's luminous debut album, "Girl Out West" carves a time out of time, a lovely, quiet place where everything glows and shimmers. It will remind you, at intervals, of lots of other dreamy pop bands – Mazzy Star, Camera Obscura, the Low Lows, Beach House – and yet it has more warmth than most of these. Its notes, whether created by voice, guitar, organ or saxophone, are extended, elongated, allowed to drip like honey from a spoon. There's a sense of time stretching out into infinity, a mystery, yet the whole thing is grounded in the real world in a way that completely eliminates any chill. Perhaps the strangest, most mesmerizing cut, "Chlorine Pools" incorporates the call from a child's game of Marco Polo into its shifting layers of guitar and organ interplay, the most ordinary sort of happiness sitting in the midst of abstract instrumental bliss.

Speck Mountain, at its core, is three people, singer Marie-Clare Balabanian, guitar-bass-tape manipulator Karl Briedeck and keyboard-saxophonist Kate Walsh. Towards the end, Jackie Ciliberti takes up the electric organ, allowing Walsh to switch to saxophone, and Tim Daisy provides minimal percussion (a full kit in "Summer Above,” sleigh bells in "Hey Moon"). Yet mostly, the band's sound consists of the three principles making sustained, interweaving tones. "Stockholm" couches Balabanian's lingering pop melodies in a nest of reverberating guitar notes, a wash of organ and a melancholy whistle; there is no white space at all in the music. "Fjord Song," which follows, is even more wall-to-wall, a continuous drone nearly obliterating Balabanian's voice, Walsh executing baroque organ flourishes in the foreground. And even "Hey Moon,” the band's most overtly pop song layers clouds of tone and half-heard instruments on top of its dizzyingly sweet melody.

It's that combination of sweetness and unearthliness, of accessible pop and trippy psychedelia, that make Summer Above so appealing…and so hard to get a grip on. And yet, if you lie perfectly still, the combination makes utter sense. It's space rock made with warm organic instruments, pop filtered through the language of the subconscious, and, finally, a waking daydream too beautiful to shake off.

By Jennifer Kelly

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