The Vanduras

In the Dark

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Father and son duo Gary Brandin and Geof Brandin pool their resources in perpetual twilight, a subdued marriage of surf and exotica, with the Marketts or the Lively Ones at the wheel, Esquivel in the back seat, and Martin Denny riding shotgun. The results go down super-smoothly, with lap steel frequently buttering the ears. The mixes frequently put the Hawaiian lap steel under the spotlight, so much so that everything else takes on a supporting status (the cautious prowl of "El Monte" loses some of its edge as an example). This being said, consistency is what makes In the Dark such a good album. If you agree with the mood of any one track, you will most likely embrace the entire thing. The tones are consistently warm, and the relaxed disposition of the musicians is contagious. The title cut is a dreamy coastal sunset, flirting with Jerry Cole over post-surf mai tais under the umbrella. "The Big Hurt" tips its hat to Wayne Shanklin in a fun little upbeat diversion, "Cybele's Reverie" builds infectiously with jangly acoustic guitar chugging along the interstate, and "Lost Beach" glides along so absently, it almost wants to stay lost in its balmy palm tree clich├ęs. "Dinner With Robert" changes up the mood a bit, like a gunslinger's tango with his mysterious past, investing in a heightened sense of melodrama that pays off wonderfully. "Charlotte" floats south of the border for margaritas and bittersweet love, and "Sarajevo Rose" follows as a tender jazz ballad with a mellow pinch of cayenne, flirting curiously with the satellites overhead before touchdown. The haze wears off for "Rope'n Pineapples," an aptly titled two-minute Don Ho-down that winks its way through the hula. In terms of energy, this is the rare exception to the otherwise subdued shoreline stroll that the Vanduras repeatedly take, and take well. "Levitare'" marks the close of the album, a completely ambient cloud of guitar vapors passing over a sleeping volcano. Solidly (and supposedly in rotation), Jeff Donovan, Michael Kramer, and Larry Mitchell all take turns passing the sticks to each other as supporting drummers. Front to back, In the Dark is a low-stress, high-fidelity tiki torch flame that intoxicates as it burns. It's only flaw may be how consistently gorgeous it is -- sweet like cotton candy, though thankfully not as forgettable.

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