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Reading Rainbow - Prism Eyes

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Artist: Reading Rainbow

Album: Prism Eyes

Label: Hozac

Review date: Nov. 23, 2010

Reading Rainbow, a duo out of Philadelphia, makes wistful punk reveries out of the most rudimentary materials: a scrubby splatter of guitar, primitive drum cadences, the occasional burble of vintage keyboards. This is buzzy, fizzy, garage pop — nothing new there — but of an achingly sweet, plaintive variety.

That bittersweet quality — one of the band’s clear strengths — emerges mostly through the vocals, which are high and shaded with minor-key harmonies. Instrumental parts stutter and bash in a manic punk rush, but the singing unfolds on top in long delicate strands. You can almost hear the melodies draping over these bristly cadences, softening their contours and falling gracefully in shifting folds of harmony. In the faster songs, like “Wasting Time” or the “Prism Eyes,” a barrage of guitars splinters time into eight-to-a-measure bits, but the vocals drift through unhurried, a single note coolly sustaining for half a bar or even longer.

There are only two people in the band — drummer and singer Sarah Everton and guitarist Rob Garcia — but the vocal arrangements are surprisingly complex at times, looped in intersecting counterparts, rounds almost, where the end of one phrase tucks in under the next. Slow, sleepy “Let’s Dream Tonight,” begins with Garcia and Everton in unison, unspooling a simple, modal melody over a Big Star-ish jangle of guitars. Mid-song, though, the voices splinter off into harmonies and begin to break the main melody into sharp, criss-crossing fragments that reinforce and contradict each other. Later, down-tempo closer “To My Gemini” has almost a madrigal feel, its blistered guitar dissonance cooled and smoothed by vocal serenity.

Not all the songs have keyboards (and it’s not entirely clear who has a free hand to play them). Still, on the songs where they figure (notably “Always On My Mind”), they add a certain amount of light and clarity. Here, a warbling, feathery flourish of some sort of organ weaves in and around Everton’s voice, giving the cut a dreamy, slightly hallucinogenic sort of happiness. “Runaways,” too, has a wavering thread of organ drone woven through it, which intensifies its slow-blooming vocal harmonies.

Prism Eyes has its share of fast, fun pop songs, too. Upbeat, relentlessly propulsive cuts like the title track and “Cut in Two” rattle and bash through roughly the same basic landscape as Vivian Girls (and their forebears in Black Tambourine). Yet even here, it’s the tart, dreamy melancholy of the vocals that distinguishes Reading Rainbow. There’s a slow song hidden within every fast one here, a choral elegy spliced into even the peppiest banger. Here’s what happens when you shine punk rock energy through a prism, and it breaks into a million different colors.

By Jennifer Kelly

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