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The Botticellis - Old Home Movies

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Artist: The Botticellis

Album: Old Home Movies

Label: Antenna Farm

Review date: May. 22, 2008

It's hard to describe Old Home Movies without sounding dismissive. This first album by San Francisco’s Botticellis is simply a very good pop record, exquisitely arranged and performed. It is a modest triumph, limited in its scope but crafted beautifully. It is not easy to make an album like this, all edges softened, all textures woven into a single iridescent fabric, but it is very easy to listen to one.

The Botticellis, led by songwriter Alexi Glickman, fall into the category of vaguely retro, summery pop. The term "California" gets tossed in their direction a fair amount, partly because that's where they're from, but mostly because the Beach Boys apparently invented vocal harmonies and anyone who uses them subsequently becomes part of their extended family. But really, you can hear touches of all kinds of ’70s pop singers here – Eric Carmen, John Sebastian pre-eminently – and more than a hint of engineer and part time drummer Jason Quever's Papercuts in these shimmery, gossamer songs.

The disc opens with its title track kicking off in a strident flourish of guitar. It's about the most aggressive sound you'll hear on the disc, but it's soon slathered over with Glickman's vocals (he sounds a bit like Roy Orbison). There's a bit of abrasion in the drums and in a syncopated, pulled-up-short guitar riff, but ease and expanse dominate, as the organs surge and the vocal line drifts wistfully upward.

As is often the case with pop, the lushest, sweetest songs have the saddest subject matter. "Stay With My Brother," a chamber pop song a la the Ladybug Transistor, sweeps effortlessly forward on breezy melody and bell-clear, unhurried guitar interplay. The song, about a girl who has fallen out of love and a boy who wishes she hadn't, crests to a modest climax in the phrase, "We can pretend / sleep in the sun." Out of this wistful, unlikely daydream, a flurry of impossibly sweet guitar notes emerge, light as air, bubble iridescent.

Similarly in "When I Call," a boy muses about a call he may not make to a girl who may not answer. But this sad tale of romantic inertia comes wrapped in shivery vocal harmonies and glossy layers of guitar, and slips by like an unattended daydream. It becomes a bit more urgent at the break, with a tremulous, vibrating guitar solo, its fierceness muted as if heard from underwater.

The danger, with this sort of music, is that it slides into saccharine, one too many string flourishes or three-part harmonies finally overwhelming the delicate melodies and dragging them to a sentimental slough. Old Home Movies avoids this pitfall right up until the end, when "Who Are You Now" breaks the string, with a ’70s pastiche of strings, keyboards and radio-pop choruses. Yet until then, through the scratchy waltz time "Flashlight,” the power pop exuberance of "Reviewer," the dreamy Rhodes romanticism of "Your Blue Tongue,” the Botticellis have stayed on the right side of the pop/dreck line.

Old Home Movies is not bold or innovative. It doesn't require a lot of theoretical explanation. It is pure melancholic romantic pleasure, the sort of well-crafted, delicately performed pop that used to drift out of AM radios. It's a record that achieves what it attempts with grace and style, and that is harder to do than it looks.

By Jennifer Kelly

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