Aqualung

Memory Man

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Though many records often need a few spins to really sink in, not every record's outcome is worth the time and energy expended to digest its contents. Lucky for Aqualung fans, such is not the case with Memory Man, the follow-up to 2005's acclaimed U.S. debut Strange and Beautiful. This album is worth the time. At first glance, it's basically more of the same elegantly crafted and poignant rock tunage built around gentle piano strokes and Matt Hales' breathy Thom Yorke-ish croon, which is able to convey as much emotion as anything else he does. But Hales, the brains and creative force behind the London-based project, takes significant strides this time around to incorporate new elements into his arrangements, and one glance through just his personal credits (not even considering those of his various collaborators) uncovers a laundry list of instruments and electronic gadgets used. Yet somehow, even these extra additions -- which indeed make for a fuller sounding record -- can't divert the unassuming Aqualung from being exceptionally serene and grounded, at times practically evoking images of floating motionless underwater. Even at his most ambitious, Hales is still pretty straightforward and unable to escape the simple appeal of warm, uncluttered and accessible melodies. Listeners are constantly drawn into the quieter moments of brushed percussion and gentle notes, and re-energized at the sporadic swells of emotion. The swirling and hypnotic buildup of tracks like "Something to Believe In" and the redemptive "Outside" are enough to make Chris Martin blush, while the restrained tension of "Glimmer," especially with the faint horn echoing oh-so-softly in the background, results in a song of understated strength. Paul Buchanan (of Scottish dream pop outfit the Blue Nile) additionally lends transfixing guest vocals to the already beautiful ballad "Garden of Love." So while Aqualung may not be doing anything on Memory Man that is wholly different than all of the Coldplays and Rufus Wainwrights of the world, there is a certain down-to-earth charm inherent in Hales that his peers often lack. This small detail makes Aqualung's music even more appealing and Memory Man an even more rewarding listen.

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