Imitation Electric Piano

Blow It Up, Burn It Down, Kick It 'Til It Bleeds

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A truly experimental band, Imitation Electric Piano keeps getting stranger and catchier with each of their releases. They've evolved from jazzy post-rock that stayed within the orbit of Simon Johns' other band, Stereolab, to more eclectic, song-based work on the very appealing Trinity Neon, to the even more freewheeling and more accessible territory of Blow It Up, Burn It Down, Kick It 'Til It Bleeds. Arriving three years after Trinity Neon, this album suggests that Imitation Electric Piano will try anything at least once, whether it's pairing energetic rock with keyboards that were last heard on a '70s kids' TV show, as on the opening track, "Tension," or concocting expansive soundscapes with a dry sense of humor like "Relatively Good Times." Helping Imitation Electric Piano sound more versatile than ever is new vocalist Mary Hampton, who has a clear but wispy -- and very British -- soprano reminiscent of two other Marys: Mary Hansen, the late Stereolab vocalist/keyboardist, and Welsh folksinger Mary Hopkin. Her fragile, ladylike voice leads the way on two of the album's outstanding tracks: she's winsome and wistful on "For the Best," a piece of folky chamber pop that knows better than to be sad about the fact that life moves on, but is anyway. On "I Mean Wow" her voice is so high and pure that it almost sounds like a flute or synth tone, while the music moves from a slow, lush intro to brisk, breathless pop with skipping electronic rhythms and shimmering guitars and keyboards. These songs are so unique and pretty that it's almost too bad that Imitation Electric Piano didn't stick with these sounds for all of Blow It Up, Burn It Down, Kick It 'Til It Bleeds. However, the rest of the album is just as intriguing, and nearly as good. The band goes in a very different direction with "Leave Her Johnny," a smoldering song with massive guitars and keyboards and a lumbering beat that seems like it'll steamroll over Hampton's vocals, but the imbalance ends up working surprisingly well. They take the biggest risks on the final, title track, delving into heavy prog with Krautrock underpinnings; though it doesn't come off quite as well as what came before it, its awkwardness is part of its charm, and typical of Imitation Electric Piano's charm in general: if you don't like what they're doing on any particular song, stick around for a few minutes, because it's bound to change.

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