The Gwens

Devil's Cliff

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On their 2001 full-length, Devil's Cliff, Jersey City's the Gwens lead the listener through an inviting landscape populated with crisp acoustics; the occasional pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd-ian spacy soundwave; and, at times, Tobin Sprout-esque, vaguely Brit-pop, jangling guitars and laid-back vocals. Knowing that the band travels in the same circles as similarly minded acts like Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples in Stereo, and Olivia Tremor Control (whose bassist was an original member of the Gwens, then known as the Wiffengwens) should help listeners better understand the Gwens' sound. Brief sonic collages of sound effects and film clips spring up every few songs to nice effect, adding to the air of experimentation that flows through the Gwens' music. When not channeling Pink Floyd, one of the more obvious comparisons to make would be Jeff Mangum and Matthew Sweet, vocally -- that is if Sweet would step away from his alt-rock niche and broaden his attack a bit, letting his vocals sound airy and open without being whiny, as they typically are. Very melody-driven and innocently singsongy in an instantly endearing way, the image on the cover of the band (presumably) sitting around a campfire seems fitting. The most prevalent sound is what could be described as experimental (slightly) psychedelic-era-inspired jangle pop -- often of the same school of musical thought as the futuristic retro-pop of London's Southall Riot. "In a Puddle" is a straightforward pop gem with spritely strummed guitars creating a pleasant Ricky Nelson or early-Beatles feel. The lyrics play like short stories, giving the listener vivid glimpses into ordinary moments of strangers' lives, most notably with "Her Old Diary" and "Lemonade." Other songs feature bits of flamenco-tinged guitars and urgent vocal harmonies. With so many layers of music happening at the same time the songs feel almost epic, but in under three minutes. While it may be better to get too much of a good thing than too little, at 19 songs Devil's Cliff is almost too much, especially with so much going on in each song. Perhaps breaking it down into two smaller records would have made it easier to digest. Still, if the record being too long is the worst that can be said about it, it's a good record.

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