Altar Eagle

Mechanical Gardens

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Sounding less like a band working in one particular strain of 21st century psychedelia and more like a mélange of any number of them, from murky lo-fi hooks to shimmering post-shoegaze noise and soft male-female vocal interplay, Altar Eagle finds the duo of Brad and Eden Rose, the masterminds behind the Foxy Digitalis site and associated labels, on a new creative high. On Mechanical Gardens -- an album that seems like it should be released on cassette rather than vinyl or digital thanks to all the warm, sonic fuzz at work -- the duo happily embraces the possibilities of catchy pop via indirect means, a classic trick, but one which sounds a touch fresher as it's neither guitar fuzz with hooks or clean synths and beats. Instead, it's almost as if the minimal wave crew got geekily happy and created an equal but opposite record to the xx's debut, as the song like "Spy Movie" demonstrates. Opening song "Battlegrounds" sets the general tone while including a great instrumental mid-song break to boot, a simple keyboard melody surrounded by feedback wash. If the duo doesn't have the rhythmic reach of a similarly inclined act like Panda Bear, hearing the squelching glitch skip and rumble on "Honey" is a treat nonetheless. Meanwhile, the straight-ahead pace of "Monsters" gets swathed in as much extra noise as any random Jesus and Mary Chain track, but by having those elements comprise keyboard textures rather than guitar feedback it all becomes another example of an '80s movie anthem that's just a little out of time. Another interesting touch comes courtesy of slightly inverted expectations: the gentle, melodic flow and vocals on "You Lost Your Neon Haze" seem like a song that is almost summed up in two minutes but runs for nearly eight. Further, any album with a track like "Breakdown," which sounds like a loop of the opening seconds of the full version of the Boo Radleys' "Lazarus," has a certain something.

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