The Concretes

The Concretes

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Four years after their wonderful EP collection Boy, You Better Run Now was released by the star-crossed indie imprint Up Records (whose founder, Chris Takino, died of leukemia shortly after Boy, You Better Run Now's release), the Concretes return with The Concretes, their proper full-length debut and first album for Astralwerks. Because of the somewhat dodgy distribution of the singles and EPs that came after Boy, You Better Run Now, The Concretes might sound like even more of a departure from the band's early work to stateside Concretes fans. The spare, spry indie pop of the group's first releases has been replaced by a sugar-coma maximalism, overflowing with horns, strings, harps, and mandolins. "You Can't Hurry Love" and "Diana Ross" -- a relentlessly sweet and more than slightly druggy-sounding song about the diva's hit "Love Hangover" that actually approximates a love hangover more than Ross' song ever did -- suggest a Supremes fetish, while "New Friend"'s foggy, chiming charm nods to the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning." Actually, Motown lushness meets Velvets narcotic calm is a fairly apt summary of The Concretes' aesthetic, and when it works, it really works. Along with the previously mentioned songs, "Warm Night" is another triumph, with romantically vague lyrics ("I follow you down on this warm night/Down to a certain colour") that sound like they've been translated from an Old World love song, and shimmering mandolins that are oddly reminiscent of "Somewhere My Love" from Doctor Zhivago. "Seems Fine" also has the perfect balance of a big pop sound and the catchy songwriting to back it up. However, The Concretes' massive arrangements -- which really shouldn't come as a surprise, considering that the band's regular lineup is eight members strong, and swells to 20 when all the "honorary Concretes" are counted -- can tend to overpower slighter, less-structured songs like "Lovin Kind" and "Lonely As Can Be." Victoria Bergsman's artless, aloof vocals balance out the album's hyperactive sonics and are the main link to the band's old sound. In some ways, Boy, You Better Run Now's startling, starkly pretty pop is still more striking than The Concretes' glossy pocket symphonies. But even though this album lacks some of the unpredictable energy of the band's early work, there might be more cause for concern if the Concretes still sounded exactly the same as they did four years ago. For the most part, though, the band has simply traded one kind of beauty for another, and even if The Concretes is slightly disappointing in some aspects, it also has more than enough charms in its own right.

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