Vanilla Swingers

Vanilla Swingers

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That the first album by this U.K. group should contain an anti-nostalgia song apparently referencing the title track to Robert Forster's first solo album, Danger in the Past, is as good an initial sign as any as to both the band's intent and, frankly, its fine taste. (That they should also begin it with a sample of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" as well as John Peel snarking on it seems all the more right.) And if there are sometimes signs of loving that kind of literate rock & roll not too wisely but too well -- it's a bit much to hear the description "the pre-post modern business center" in the lyrics to the opening "The Town" -- Vanilla Swingers mostly carry it all off with understated elegance. Miles Jackson and Anne Gilpin, the duo at the heart of the band (though they include more members in live work), have fine complementary voices that work well either blended together or trading off lines, and they do have some honestly winning images, ranging from thoughts of "friends stuck in shitty jobs" to long overdue note-reading and general meditations on the state of it all. But what might be the secret weapon is how what initially sounds like a gentle demi-folk act turns rapidly into a quite varied sound, with the slow burn of "Like Straw Dogs" turning louder and angrier as it goes, being the key. From there there's everything from snaky post-punk guitar chime and understated MCing (in classic Neil Tennant style!) on "I'll Stay Next to You" to the slow, dub-meets-synth string crawl of "The Way She Walked out the Door." Perhaps the common thread is how fluid their stylistic shifts are within each song as much as song for song -- something like "The Hive," where restrained electro-pop suddenly shifts into surf-western guitar crunch and twang without disrupting anything at all (and that's just one move of many in this lengthy song), is representative.

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