Trembling Blue Stars

Alive to Every Smile

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Another Trembling Blue Stars album, another complete lineup overhaul. 2000's Broken by Whispers was a reunion of leader Robert Wratten's old band, the Field Mice, in all but name, with former bandmates Michael Hiscock and Annemari Davies temporarily rejoining Wratten for an updated version of the delicate sound that made the Field Mice one of the archetypal indie bands of their era. This time Hiscock's out, Davies adds her distinctive vocals to only two tracks, and the new band is like a Sarah Records' old-home week, with guitarist/keyboardist Harvey Williams of Another Sunny Day, singer Beth Arzy of Aberdeen, and bassist Keris Howard of Brighter (and non-Sarah-related drummer Jonathan Akerman) taking over. No matter the players, Alive to Every Smile is so patently a Bob Wratten album that, honestly, it sounds a little tired. Anyone who has ever heard a Field Mice, Northern Picture Library, or Trembling Blue Stars album knows exactly what this will sound like: a mix of acoustic guitars and sequencers, wordless female backing vocals, slow tempos, and depressing lyrics, with Wratten's pleasantly anonymous voice tying it all together. Wratten throws a couple of change-ups into the mix, like the surprisingly noisy opener "Under Lock and Key," and the almost bouncy single "The Ghost of an Unkissed Kiss," but the majority of this album is just more of the same. It's an appealing same, to be sure, but Alive to Every Smile falls squarely into the category of, as Yogi Berra said, "If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like."

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