Sounding a little like Emmett Rhodes' lost great statement since he went underground in the mid-'70s, In Plain Song was one of the most surprising and beautiful "retro" pop records of 2001. Filled with comforting Rhodes/McCartney/Badfinger-inspired vocals and melodies, solid but slightly opaque songwriting, and a quirky vision right out of Song Cycle, this record is a delight to the ears. Easily rating up with such inspired modern-day popsters such as Eric Matthews, the Wondermints, and Elliot Smith, this band, consisting of a somewhat faceless group of Kansas musicians, creates a vibe that is at once experimental yet familiar as well. Also, despite their Midwest origins, In Plain Song is a very California record. Exquisite orchestral arrangements and odd combinations of overdubbed instruments (such as vibes and banjo together on some tracks) help to create a real atmosphere here, and it's almost too much to get all of it on first listen. The "faceless" quality of Higher Burning Fire mentioned earlier removes them from being a personality-driven presentation of a new band, and actually enhances the listening experience. Like the High Llamas' (who share a certain musical kinship this band) Hawaii, this is not really a record to study, track by track. It is, however, a great album and listening experience, and the recordings (as opposed to merely "songs") flow together like the Llamas' aforementioned title and create a total, magnificent aural collage. It must be said, though, that the album's closing track (and the album's lone rocker) "Year" is one of the great lost singles of 2001.
AllMusic Review by Matthew Greenwald