Sounding a little like Emmett Rhodes' lost great statement since he went underground in the mid-'70s, In Plain Song was one of the most surprising and beautiful "retro" pop records of 2001. Filled with comforting Rhodes/McCartney/Badfinger-inspired vocals and melodies, solid but slightly opaque songwriting, and a quirky vision right out of Song Cycle, this record is a delight to the ears. Easily rating up with such inspired modern-day popsters such as Eric Matthews, the Wondermints, and Elliot Smith, this band, consisting of a somewhat faceless group of Kansas musicians, creates a vibe that is at once experimental yet familiar as well. Also, despite their Midwest origins, In Plain Song is a very California record. Exquisite orchestral arrangements and odd combinations of overdubbed instruments (such as vibes and banjo together on some tracks) help to create a real atmosphere here, and it's almost too much to get all of it on first listen. The "faceless" quality of Higher Burning Fire mentioned earlier removes them from being a personality-driven presentation of a new band, and actually enhances the listening experience. Like the High Llamas' (who share a certain musical kinship this band) Hawaii, this is not really a record to study, track by track. It is, however, a great album and listening experience, and the recordings (as opposed to merely "songs") flow together like the Llamas' aforementioned title and create a total, magnificent aural collage. It must be said, though, that the album's closing track (and the album's lone rocker) "Year" is one of the great lost singles of 2001.
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AllMusic Review by Matthew Greenwald