The Badger King

The Lighthouse, the Giant

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The debut album of Portland, OR's The Badger King opens with "Vaudeville's Favorite Mimics." This track was produced to sound like a vintage wax-cylinder recorded bit of dialogue wherein a man announces that the sounds contained on the album are all made by the human voice. A brief demonstration of a vocalist making instrument sounds follows. However, the remainder of the album is made with actual instruments, although the clearly intended star is the powerful, unique, and sometimes off-kilter vocal of Marianna Ritchey. Though rather lo-fi in production and execution, The Lighthouse, the Giant resembles nothing so much as it does a prog rock opus (or at least the skeletal structure thereof, as it lacks the speaker-filling hoopla of a traditional, over-produced prog effort), though it is more easily filed under something like indie electro-folk/pop. The Badger King specializes in melodies that are generally pleasant (often in spite of their best effort to be obtuse) and lyrics that struggle to sound important by using language like that of an English major trying too hard to impress a professor. Similarly, The Badger King tends to create a musical environment that is so concerned with being unique that it under-estimates the value of the simple beauty it attains in passages of tracks like "Home to England." As with artists like Annika Bentley, The Badger King creates music that often drowns itself in elitist musical academics and pushes the listener away with implications that the musicians are clearly more clever and savvy than the audience could ever hope to be. Case in point: The Badger King went so far as to borrow bits of poetry from Anne Sexton for the lyrics of "Sermon of the 12 Acknowledgements." Despite its occasional exclusiveness, The Lighthouse, the Giant has moments of true beauty and rock opera grandeur, powerfully driven by Ritchey's sharp, strong, unusual vocals. The language of the songs is more prose than poetry, with an overall tone akin to what fairy tales might sound like if they were written for adults. Orchestrated by an atypical combination of computers, guitars, percussion, and glockenspiel (among other things), in its best moments The Lighthouse, the Giant starts to sound a bit like abandoned Guided by Voices experiments -- especially the album highlight, "Home to England," and its flirtations with fuzzy indie rock and lilting Brit-pop, capped with a riff like a mutated "Pivotal Film." The Lighthouse, the Giant features guest appearances from the likes of Dave Longstreth, whose own release, The Graceful Fallen Mango, with its emphasis on his strong, emotional vocals, would play as a nice companion piece to this record.