From the Cliffs

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Fyfe Dangerfield, lead singer for the British-based pop quartet Guillemots, is certainly an ambitious man. He has managed to gather four rather different artists into one group that is, for the most part, both interesting and compositionally sound. Most impressive musically is the rhythm section, which can, thanks to drummer Rican Caol, move from near-electronica to '60s pop, with jazzy undertones coming from the unobtrusive yet exacting upright bass of Aristazabal Hawkes. And while Dangerfield's voice is similar to that of Fran Healy's or even Bernard Sumner's, he seems bored with singing sweetly, and isn't afraid to use an off-key Jeff Buckley-esque wail that brings added emotion to the otherwise fairly calm songs, and which, when combined with escalating xylophones and guitars, transports Guillemots' music to near-experimental heights. This being said, the more traditional indie pop song is what the band does best: "Trains to Brazil" is great, with a driving bass drum, a horn section, various sound effects, and a catchy melody that sticks for a long time. Equally good is the clever "Who Left the Lights Off, Baby?," which has Dangerfield singing over muted synths and percussive quarter notes from guitarist MC Lord Magrao, "I could love you baby 'til the cows came home/What's that noise, yeah it's the cows knocking on our door," the bovine references to a love gone sour continuing until a sax solo, messy piano chords, and background chatter end -- and strangely, bring closure to -- the piece. Though the variety in their musical influences generally adds a unique and very listenable quality to the songs on From the Cliffs (the harmonies, the swooping melodies, the reflective, subtle guitar), the bandmembers' eagerness to explore new genres can also hurt them. "Go Away" starts off wonderfully with a classical bass clarinet motif and a reggae-inspired bass and drum groove, but Dangerfield's attempt at punkier phrasing is simply uncomfortable, and his lyrics move away from his usual quirky thoughtfulness, attempting too hard to show contrast and profundity (repeating, for example, the awkwardly flowing "when a walk in the park only renders darkness" far too many times). Not much else but a breakdown happens for the rest of the seven-minute song, which then builds itself up again with a distorted guitar track that sounds like it was laid down on a whim, months after the initial take was recorded. Guillemots are much better when they play cleanly off each other and Dangerfield's charming, sincere, and sometimes bemusing lyrics take center stage. For their first full-length album, they must now face the challenge of combining creativity and experimentation without forcing the sound and falling short of the desired effect. If they can do that, they will undoubtedly be a very exciting band to listen to.

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