Mecca Normal

Sitting on Snaps

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It wasn't a major-label jump per se, but Mecca Normal signing to Matador for Sitting on Snaps did mean a slightly higher profile for the duo, if only in a matter of degrees. It didn't mean any change in the band's music, happily enough, as David Lester and Jean Smith continued to pursue their own path, with the occasional guest sitting in on their work. Most notably this time out it was New Zealand musician Peter Jefferies contributing piano to two tracks, "Vacant Night Sky" and "Cyclone," the former providing a surging, inspirational start to the record. Smith's singing there is some of her best ever, perhaps a touch more conventional but no less compelling. Overall, her vocals are perhaps the strongest and most noticeable part of the combination this time around -- she stretches her syllables out quite often, creating unsettled, overdubbed drones of sorts. But this is no slight to Lester, with many worthy moments of his own, such as the trebly chimes that suggest the title "Frozen Rain" and the nervous, plucking riff of "Pamela Makes Waves." The edgier songs have the classic Mecca Normal sound in terms of unsettling a listener at the same time it draws one in, such as "Something to Be Said," with its guitar freakouts and Smith switching from lengthened keen to mysterious whisper, and the Appalachian folk-meets-noise of "Beppo's Room." One track of particular note is "Crimson Dragnet," on which Lester creates a variety of riffs paying indirect homage to a number of bands from Led Zeppelin to what sounds like Nirvana, all while avoiding a direct quote. Smith's lyrics here are some of her most abstract but still passionate, but one can also sense that feeling even more thoroughly from the more direct "Trapped Inside Your Heart," the album's lovely, unexpected highlight.

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