The Czars

Before...But Longer

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    9
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The Czars' debut full-length release on Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde's (of the Coceteau Twins) Bella Union imprint is a stunning, rocking electro-folk album of controlled restraint. Vocalist and chief songwriter John Grant's emotional lyrics and singing style evoke a dark, poetic imagery throughout the album's 11 tracks. One of the standout tracks is "Val," where Grant sings a brittle, deep-throated ode to emptiness. With Paula Frazer, of Tarnation, providing backup vocals against Grant's commanding inflections, the album burns slowly through track and after track of percolating electronic sound foundations. "Gangrene" brings to mind a less gruff Mark Lanegan track, as it picks up steam toward a finale of intense guitar play. "Get Used to It" is an enjoyably sarcastic song detailing a personal worldview that leads to depression; it exudes a charming catchiness. Late into the song, Frazer's vocals bring to mind Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to Once Upon a Time in the West. "Dave's Dream" is a pretty, calming number, followed immediately by "What I Can Do For You," a song which seems too catchy on first listen, before becoming an absolute joy afterwards. "Zippermouth" takes a more aggressive tone, with Grant becoming downright angry about a boring relationship, while the rest of the band gets into a dark groove; despite the harsh tone, Grant eventually expands his vocals into a lilting falsetto, giving the song the needed contrast to validate its placement on the album. It is not hyperbole to suggest that Before...But Longer is the sort of album that demands repeat listens; indeed, it becomes hard to listen to anything else. Since the album is remarkably subtle, its charms are virtually impossible to ignore. The Czars astound again and again on this album.

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