Le Grand Essor de La Maison du Monstre

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Minmae seem to be in a bit of a French phase of late, at least if their album titles are any indication, but musically Sean Brooks and company's embrace of a steady-as-she-goes variety of indie rock as a base remains not only present but very enjoyable. The mutation of Brooks' work over the years from lo-fi tape abuse to a cleaner but still ragged-and-right sound has been a fine one to track, even as his lyrics -- capturing states of mind and sometimes awkward situations in deft, imagistic turns of phrase, such as "Let It Ride" and its vision of a coastal trip "from San Clemente up into Merced" -- work gentle wonders. Brooks' talent for arrangements gives many songs much more scope in turn -- there's everything from Neu!'s Motorik charge (with Chris Calvert's drums ably keeping the pace on songs like "The Zero Sum") to sudden piano breaks to dank synth drones to thick, thrilling blasts of feedback. Meanwhile, his ruminative, slightly dry twang, a bit reminiscent of Chris Eckman of the Walkabouts, suits the songs quite well, providing a sometimes melancholic undertow to songs like "Cold Steel Minders." Even something as simple as the way he repeats "sickeningly, sickeningly" on "Everyone Knows Jesus Wore a Chain" or the audible quaver in "The Winking Lass" adds much depth to the songs overall as performances. His own vocals aren't the only ones at work; the sudden backing of extra voices on "Cold Room, So. Pacific" -- itself a miniature epic and, in a striking touch, opening the album with what proves to be its longest song -- adds a queasy, off-kilter feeling. The near counterbalance to "Cold Room," the almost album ender "(To Edit) Quickfingerz," in turn lets the band showcase itself as a steady, slow burn of an outfit, Brooks' overdubbed guitar parts gracefully riding down the end of the song.

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