Like journalists embedded deep in the trenches of everyday life, I Come to Shanghai's self-titled debut is like a musical documentary, tenderly delving into the disappointments of both the physical and metaphysical worlds. In contrast to the lyrical theme, the Bay Area duo use sunny neo-psych and indie pop as their canvas, merging the sprawling, synth-drenched excursions of producer David Fridmann's work with the Flaming Lips (The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots) with the bittersweet pop of Scott McCaughey's later work in the Minus 5. The combination strikes a balance between spacy and sugary, not allowing one facet to dominate the other. The entire package is gift-wrapped by Robert Ashley and Sam Frigard's vocals, which fluctuate between a laconic David Berman/Scott Kannenberg style delivery to delicately layered sunshine pop vocal harmonies. "Your Lazy Eye" perfectly showcases everything that the group brings to the table, shifting easily from lush, Brian Eno influenced synths and reverb-drenched vocals to bouncy pop, building up to a dreamy coda. "Salvation Is a Country Club" really captures the feelings of spiritual disenfranchisement that are threaded throughout the album. Ashley sings, "Salvation is a Country Club with dues I cannot pay, so the beggar in my soul has come to stay," with a kind of frankness that creates more of a feeling of acceptance than discontent. The album closes with "Do We Have to Rise Again," a beautifully sprawling song that combines the symphonic qualities found on Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs with the thump of the Flaming Lips' "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell," the wistful music creating the perfect backdrop for the duo to wearily ask "It's already such a long way down/Do we have to rise again?" Where I Come to Shanghai really succeeds with this album is in their ability to capture this sort of weariness and disappointment without coming off as overly bitter. The vocal harmonies and sweet pop melodies perform a sort of alchemy on the lyrics themselves, smoothing out the rough edges and giving them an innocence more likely to be heard from a kid whose parents forgot to pick him up from soccer practice than a break-up letter to God.
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AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney