American Kestrel

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Saturnine's chiming, sweetly atmospheric fourth LP recalls a period in the mid-'80s when virtually every underground pop band in earshot strived to emulate early R.E.M. records like Murmur and Reckoning -- American Kestrel evokes the jangle pop heyday of cult favorites like the Windbreakers, the Connells, and Winter Hours with remarkable precision, which is both the album's strength and its fatal flaw. Not a trick is missed: the guitars ring like vintage Rickenbackers ("Trees" and "Tallis Canon" are note-perfect facsimiles of Notorious Byrd Brothers-era Byrds, and "One in a Hundred" even covers Gene Clark). Matt Gallaway's moody vocals and opaque lyrics recede Stipe-like into the mix, and the arrangements shimmer with pastoral beauty. And while it's all painstakingly crafted and gorgeously realized, to be sure, at the same time American Kestrel is at best a guilty pleasure, at worst an exercise in futility -- sure, countless artists have forged careers trading off the innovations of their heroes, but Saturnine's nostalgia is for nostalgia itself, their music evoking bands who themselves evoked other bands, and so on. Diminishing returns aside, it's about as natural as cloning, and almost as creepy.

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