A Summer She Has Never Been, a Winter She Fears

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On his cryptically titled Lo Records debut, Greek-born sound impressionist Theodore weaves together sampled morsels of organic instrumentation and natural sounds with subtle electronic inflections to create hazily sweet, gently somnolent music reminiscent of Iceland's Múm, Japan's Lullatone, Britain's Plone, Norway's Silje Nes, and perhaps especially France's Colleen, with whom he shares a fascination with music boxes and antique-sounding instrumentation. To a great extent, Theodore forgoes the more straightforward folk and pop tropes of most of these artists, though there are subtle hints of Eastern European folk harmony, and decent amounts of acoustic guitar and other plucked string instruments here and there -- including what sounds like a bouzouki on "Madam Ortance" -- as well as a lusty sea shanty accordion waltz underpinning the seedy-sounding "Montmartre." On the other hand, he's just as likely to evoke Western classical music as familiar ambient electronic forms; the album is rife with lush, lugubrious orchestral strings, and (recalling all of the artists mentioned above) all manner of bells and chimes. Overall, though, the effect of the album is too diffuse and rarefied to sum up with any set of specific stylistic reference points, despite a constant, almost cheeky tendency for allusive arrangements and melodic borrowings. "Every Garden Has a Corner for Children" loops a polyphonic music-box snippet of "Auld Lang Syne" atop a bed of gently static white noise; "Mia Bella Fiorentina" distills the famous aria from Bizet's Carmen into a supremely languorous, murky wash of sound; "After Silence" sneaks in an arrhythmic fragment of "Edelweiss" alongside its solemn, oddly chromatic, strummed folk dirge, and perhaps most unexpectedly, opener "I Dreamt I Was Throwing Stones at the Sea" treats Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Music of the Night" (from Phantom of the Opera) with a stately, almost classical reverence, as a sweetly chiming lullaby over lapping digital waves. Curiously, while these assorted, practically canonical melodies aren't extensively disguised, the settings they're presented in are sufficiently tweaked and removed from their original contexts as to make them nearly unrecognizable on a conscious level, at least at first listen, making them appear instead as haunting but unobtrusive shards of memory within a mysterious, transporting dream. Very much like a dream, A Summer She Has Never Been, a Winter She Fears can be whimsical and sweetly nostalgic, but it's too strange and otherworldly ever to become cloying -- and at times it grows downright unsettling, even without rising above a serenely submerged whisper.

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