The Double

Loose in the Air

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With digital recording becoming ever cheaper and cleaner-sounding, it's easy for a band to record itself in ProTools-perfect fidelity. However, it's also all too easy to forget the importance of ambience and even outright noise when it comes to adding character and feeling to a recording; how hiss and distortion can imbue a sound with more mystery and depth than it might have had in "better" conditions. In the past, the Double has made remarkably forward-thinking use of lo-fi production, choosing to make it a part of their arrangements for its evocative qualities rather than having to use a cheap four-track or a boombox out of sheer necessity. The band's second album, Palm Fronds, was a near-perfect balance of ominous, atmospheric noise and surprisingly intimate, even cuddly, melodies. On their third album (and Matador debut), Loose in the Air, the Double moves from their noisy past to classier, more polished digs, in much the same way that one of the band's biggest fans, the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle, opted for a cleaner sound when he moved to 4AD. Unlike Darnielle's music, more of the Double's character gets lost in translation on Loose in the Air. The album's production is far from glossy, but its cleanliness strips away more than a little of the mystery that used to surround the band's songs. The return of percussionist/programmer Jeff McLeod to a standard drum kit -- which he had to abandon during the making of Palm Fronds due to a hand injury -- also gives the Double, and Loose in the Air, a more grounded, conventional indie rock sound than what their previous album suggested they might do next. Yet there are more than a few moments that show that the Double hasn't totally sacrificed their unique approach. Loose in the Air begins with two of its strongest, and most different tracks: "Up All Night" builds a jazzy melody and ominous electric static into strangely slinky, noir noise-pop, while "Idiocy" tosses together playfully woozy organs, a Stephen Malkmus-ian vocal lilt, and guitar feedback used as counterpoint to the song's main melody. Indeed, the Double's strong sense of melody might be the most notable thing about Loose in the Air, and it's only emphasized by the album's polished production. "In the Fog," for example, has a surprisingly gentle, straightforward melody, and the blurry keyboards enveloping it make the song feel like some lost '70s singer/songwriter piano ballad that was left out in the rain. The exception that proves the rule is the Sturm und Drang of "What Sound It Makes the Thunder," which shows that the Double's version of rock is pretty powerful when it comes together. Though there are lots of great moments, Loose in the Air ends up feeling more like a collection of vignettes than a cohesive album. Still, there's enough that's right with the album to suggest that the Double might just be adjusting their striking sound to their surroundings.

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