Saint Joan

The Wrecker's Lantern

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Following up their debut EP, One at Twilight, required Saint Joan to step up to the level of their entrancing live show, which their first release didn't quite capture. Happily, The Wrecker's Lantern does just that, showing that the deft, psych-tinged blend of folk, soft string moves, and a dollop of post-shoegaze reflection has finally come together in full for the quintet. With Ellen Mary McGee fronting the group well with her gently keening, twang-touched vocals, Saint Joan find a better balance between theatricality and simplicity than many indie groups in general these days -- instead of eternally swelling bombast, violinist Krisztina Hidasi aims at shading and mournful airs, suggesting a band like the Tindersticks in their early prime. (It's a feeling actually heightened nicely by the individual talent of the performers, as can be heard in things like Matthew Harms' suddenly sharp but never overbearing drumming throughout, and in particular on the excellent centerpiece of the album, "Fire at Sea.") The feeling of previous times hangs heavy over the album -- the title phrase refers to a practice by unscrupulous seaside dwellers to cause shipwrecks, while the just-archaic-enough edge on songs like "Singing Bowl" and the string-led "Gone" similarly set a hushed, distant mood. However, this isn't simply an effort of re-creation, and the almost Cure-like extended moodiness of "December" and the exquisite guitar line on "Far Away," one of the album's best songs, show how the group carefully keeps its ears open. If anything, Saint Joan are following a path not far removed from what the sadly underrated Glee Club promised but couldn't get beyond one album with, delicately finding the blend between mysterious understatement and thrilling, dramatic electric arrangement, all topped with a killer vocalist. Here's hoping for a longer lifetime and an appreciative audience to support them.

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