Takka Takka frontman Gabriel Levine goes solo as Gabriel & the Hounds on an album that weaves a bleak, mysterious spell that's intensified by his subliminal, almost whispered vocals and inventive arrangements that are equal parts pop and classical in delivery. More than a dozen fine players from the Brooklyn indie rock scene support Levine, but the record inhabits a more rarified atmosphere than this would lead you to believe. Kiss Full of Teeth is a classic of blend of singer/songwriter angst and lush backing tracks that never call attention to themselves. Levine's muted vocals bring an understated drama to the proceedings, making these tales of heartbreak and disappointment so aching and raw that they're almost hard to listen to. There are no happy endings here, but every emotional nuance rings true. Sparse guitar and swelling strings give an uplifting feel to the music on "Photos of an End," but Levine's vocal and minimal lyrics express the desolation at the end of a relationship. "Lovely Thief" is a masochistic love song delivered with a touch of bitter humor, Levine sighs his way through the lyric while strings and dark carnival horns play a despondent waltz that grows in volume and intensity to overwhelm the singer. Sustained notes from strings and horns increase the emotional tension of "Wire and Stone." A gloomy cello and muted percussion lay down a funereal tempo that builds in volume and intensity to suddenly vanish in a screech of feedback. Echoplexed bass clarinet and French horn dance with spacey strings on the brief interlude that sets up "Who Will Fall on Knees?" a painful lament of grief and longing full of wrenching emotion. Levine accents his vocal with the sound of gasping and choked-back sobs without sounding melodramatic or histrionic, not an easy feat to pull off. "When We Die In South America" is a bit more lively, with the feel of a '50s R&B hit, but the sound is more spectral than Spector, despite the punchy drums and ambient washes of violins and keyboards. Levine's vocals convey the eternal heartache of a lover who knows he'll never get close to the object of his desire. Likening an artist to Nick Drake may set up unrealistic expectations, but Levine's anguished, minimal vocals, the subtle poetry of his lyrics, and his melancholy arrangements for strings and horns echo Drake's poignant minimalism in the best way possible.
AllMusic Review by j. poet