Midnight Choir

Amsterdam Stranded

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The ambition of Midnight Choir grew apace with their third album, the flat-out astonishing Amsterdam Stranded. The close relationship and identification with the Walkabouts continued -- not only did Chris Eckman again produce and Mark Nichols once more contribute string arrangements, but Terri Moeller took over drumming from Atle Aamodt, showing the same skills here as on the Walkabouts' own releases. Engineering help from Walkabouts/Talk Talk veteran Phill Brown didn't hurt either, while recording took place in favored Eckman haunt Lisbon. For all the intertwining with Eckman's band, though, Midnight Choir retained its own distinct flavor, with DeLoner once again handling all songs except for a co-write with bassist Olsen on "Bayview (Time Ain't No Friend)" and Flaata turning in more strong, just twangy enough singing. Far from simply redoing Olsen's Lot, though, the band stretched themselves with longer, more involved Americana-inspired compositions like "Muddy River of Loneliness" matched with equally gripping performances, and the end result is a stunner, the difference between a great album and a truly amazing one. In comparison to the overtly produced richness of Olsen's Lot, Amsterdam Stranded -- without question thanks to Brown's influence -- has more of a live and stripped-down feeling at many points, which still translates into full, evocative efforts. Even though the song styles are widely different, songs like "Harbor Hope" and "Mercy of Maria" and, say, any track off Talk Talk's Laughing Stock share a certain immediate power that really suggests a performance rather than a recording. DeLoner's piano rather than guitar takes the lead throughout the album, specifically giving it a much different character than its predecessor, more darkly beautiful Scott Walker than doom-ridden Chris Isaak. Flaata's singing has the same personal, close sound as Mark Hollis' as well, making performances on "October 8" and the utterly haunting "Death's Threshold Step #2/The Train" all the more gripping and powerful.

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