Kicking off with the wonderfully murky funk and swoon of the instrumental "She's Like a Beautiful Painting" -- and that may sound like a totally ridiculous description, but it's the truth, darn it -- Fluffy Pillow is one of Orange Cake Mix's best efforts. Showing a richness and exploration in the arrangements without changing anything about his overall approach and style, Jim Rao draws together his various obsessions -- pop and sweet melancholy throughout the decades -- into a near-perfect package. Rao's abilities to work drum programming into something that captures both dancefloor magic and calmer meditation in particular makes for a highlight on Fluffy Pillow. More than a few songs stretch out to five- or six-minute lengths, allowing the synth-dance side of Orange Cake Mix to come to the fore in striking fashion. Some of Rao's vocals here are his best, capturing a certain '80s-derived mood without simply copying. Listen for the way he stretches out the simple word "call" on the quietly astonishing groove of "Some Kind of Drug" into a dramatic but not overripe moment of yearning. But many tracks are instrumentals or only feature wordless vocals, confirming Rao's ability with music in and of itself, as songs like the flat-out wonderful "Beautiful Icon" demonstrate. Consider another moment of beautiful tension with the start of "Sexylovemachine," with noise swirling around the mix before the main song suddenly bubbles up to a echo-heavy start. There's even room for overt humor, thus the portentous sci-fi voice of doom pronouncing the title on the first part of "Space Rotation." Hints of connections with contemporary groups crop up -- the gentle ebb and flow of the High Llamas, Stereolab in French jazz mode, the understandable if overdetermined comparison point of similarly minded genre-smashers the Magnetic Fields. But this is all Rao in the end, standing easily on its own merits.
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