Like many other Athens, GA-based groups, the Instruments are less of a band and more of a loose collective of musicians and artists centered around one figure: something between a band and a solo project. Heather McIntosh, the cellist for Japancakes and Circulatory System, is the sun in the solar system of the Instruments. Surrounding herself with some of Athens' "best and brightest" -- including Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum (vocal harmonies), Olivia Tremor Control and Circulatory System's Will Hart (drums and vocal harmonies), Julian Koster from the Music Tapes (singing saw), and Elf Power's Laura Carter (clarinet, accordion, vocals), to name a few -- McIntosh fashions together a surprisingly cohesive ten-song album. Revealing a heavy debt to the traditional music of Eastern Europe and the work of Kurt Weill, McIntosh and company split the album evenly between instrumentals and songs featuring vocals. "Carnival" and "Sea Chantey" would make Tom Waits proud. Elsewhere, "Song of Thomas" and "Bird Song" sound more like the British folk of Fairport Convention and Nick Drake. Billions of Phonographs is an enjoyable listen and a solid debut, especially considering that the album could have sounded like a random hodgepodge of session players.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Nickey