Stephen Hero

Apparition in the Woods

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Patrick Fitzgerald's fourth Stephenhero LP, 2007’s sleeper 57 Stars of the Air Almanac, was the former Kitchens of Distinction bassist/singer's greatest album since that trio's penultimate 1992's Death of Cool, not by revisiting their hovering dream pop majesty, but by locating a similar mystical shimmer in a piano. Apparition doesn't repeat 57 Stars' 1969-1971 Elton John-esque cadences; instead, it doubles down on employing piano hammers for sonorous shimmer. The classic instrument sounds downright ghostly, like Vincent Price playing in a haunted castle (whoever placed the mikes got a faraway sound that just plain quivers), while Fitzgerald's strong, soaring vocals are like an "apparition" himself. (And after a life-saving 2008 kidney transplant, good thing he's not one already.) It's a This Mortal Coil-like chamber knell that would dazzle former 4AD label head Ivo Watts-Russell. Along with cello, some electric guitar, and backing vocals from Bernard Butler's post-Suede foil, David McAlmont, Fitzgerald broods along with his music's frosty foreboding. Whether visiting gruesome Auschwitz, Vichy French WWII resistance liberators, or historic gay poets and playwrights and the homophobic violence they endured, Fitzgerald pulls you into his candlelit spook house seance.

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