After drinking in the stunning Hipgnosis-designed cover, you would be forgiven for believing that you had stumbled back into the psychotropic '70s. However the more you study the artwork -- striking in its seeming ordinariness -- the further transcendent it appears, its glacial, shape-shifting qualities masking a visionary message that vibrates just beneath the surface. In other words, it is the perfect visual façade for the radical art of I Am Spoonbender. With the band's music, artifice always, at first, seems both medium and message, its governing veneer and modus operandi. The more you travel beneath the surface of the astounding CD-EP Shown Actual Size, however, the more you are exposed to an entire universe of meaning, emotion, and sound, a heart beating in the technology, or, more precisely, the ghost returning to haunt its machine, as wire and circuit transmogrify into flesh and blood. A major evolution from previous recordings is the band's wholesale adoption of vocals, and it has significant impact on the overall sound. Cup's oddly beguiling monotone takes the edge off the most angular IAS tendencies, even as Dustin Donaldson's shadow vocals, which seep from the song architectures like subliminal suggestions, brilliantly enhance the music's genuine paranormality (as opposed to its sonic paranoia). All three songs are marvels, unfolding intuitively, organically, every note coaxed out of analog synthesizers and played rather than looped or sequenced. "I Went and Had My Knives Sharpened" poses a creepy and profound metaphysical question regarding identity and its preservation, the austerity of which is instantly punctured by "Remover-Installer," a riot of absurd, surrealistic wordplay and the most whimsy Spoonbender has ever displayed. Even next to those awesome tracks, though, "Re-Dial Meant 'Remember'" stands out, nearly eight entrancing minutes, like an artificial intelligence gradually coming into emotional vitality. It is the finest thing ever created by the band, and easily one of the songs of the year, regardless of genre. Even at a meager 14 minutes, Shown Actual Size manages an extraordinary feat: It leaves you in a different place than where it found you.
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AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart