Alive in The Hot Spell
This impressive full-length debut (the band also have two EPs under their belts), marks a comeback, of sorts, for bassist/vocalist/songwriter Pamela Rooney- after serious line up changes within the group. Vocal and compositional elements, reminiscent of latter-day Cocteau Twins (as well as Robin Gutherie’s subsequent unit- Violet Indiana), mid-period Cranberries and even a hint of Mazzy Star, swirl with occasional Radiohead-like keyboard washes and similar, thicker guitar textures (think Jonny Greenwood meeting up with Editors’ Chris Urbanowicz and Interpol‘s Daniel Kessler and Paul Banks), bestowed by newcomer Sarah Fitzgerald. Likewise, new-addition Nathaniel Merrill provides solid, punchy drum backing.
Together, the band sound as if they have been playing together for a million years. Fitzgerald’s dense guitar layers and darting, two-string filigrees color each song with a very specific individuated hue- an unique ability that not a lot of guitarists share with her. It is to the band’s credit that they understand the concept of “dynamics,” as they allow each other the sonic space to accentuate each others’ strengths. A real band.
Very few of the dozen songs presented here feel like B-sides. Instead each number packs a dark gravity unto itself- which speaks well to Rooney’s writing strengths, as well. And, while there are distinct stylistic components presented here that mirror all of the aforementioned, this is no band of clones- but a triad of talented musicians who have created a palette of colors and tones all their own.
Charmparticles live at Doug Fir.
“Black Braid” is a gentle ballad, with simple electric piano accompaniment- pretty, but sparse. Too sparse? That question does not come up at all with “Gold Plated Shot.” Over Fitzgerald’s familiarly incessant four-beat down stroke guitar, Rooney whisks a windswept vocal, certainly worthy of Elizabeth Fraser; singing only slightly incoherent lyrics, which worm inside the wounds of a slash-lacerated relationship, bled to death by the wraithish ingratitudes of razorslivered recollection. The band crafted a clever video to illustrate their support of this song. The sublimity of that project casts a more light-hearted shade upon this otherwise rather morose song.
Closer to the Cranberries is “The Magnificent Sky…” a pretty, haunting melody being the focus here, the tumult subsided for the moment. The Cranberries are called to mind again with “Rarest Numbers,” where Fitzgerald’s mournful arpeggiated guitars in the verses carry the little boat of a lyric across the stormy seas of the chorus; and again on “Relapse,” which features a little opening guitar riff that recalls the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,” among others.
“Battersea” moves back to the Cocteau Twins milieu, suffused with Fitzgerald’s impassioned pyrotechnics and the seamless meld of Rooney’s bass with Merrill’s drums. The lazy waltz “Ablation Cascade” benefits immensely from Fitzgerald’s fiery guitar work and pretty choral-like vocals toward the end. “The Quiet View” like a few other songs, doesn’t really sound derrivative at all- although Elliot Smith’s “Cupid’s Trick” from Either/Or, does come to mind in the turns. Another softer ballad, “A Danger To Your Health,” finds its own identity, with a strong, memorable chorus.
A rather ethereal extended intro to “Kohil” leads into a tender piece. Rooney’s lyrics, which are nothing if not impenetrable, are nearer the surface of consciousness here: “Pale yellow floated all around the room with you even when I found my rib upon your hip, I knew oh stranger, you’re something when the lights have gone and I’m left with you.” Uh-huh. “Sea Of Okhotsk” located north of the Sea of Japan, between mainland Russia and the Kamchatka Peninsula is somehow the reference point to a dreamily vaporous song with typically inscrutable lyrics- although the sense of loss and letting go is palpable.
Underlying the pretty music and sophisticated arrangements and execution, Pamela Rooney’s songs connote a deep sense of transition and catharsis, through a certain impressionistic lyrical pointillism. Extracting literal meaning from the words to these songs is a fruitless pursuit. Still, their visceral impact is undeniably obvious and intrinsically immediate. Charmparticles are a very good band who maybe on their way to greatness- whether they can outdistance the sum of their component influences to forge a sound of their own, remains to be seen. But I wouldn’t bet against this band.