Witch Hazel Sound

This World, Then the Fireworks

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Only the second full-length release in eight years by Kent, OH's the Witch Hazel Sound (known before 1998 as Witch Hazel), 2001's This World, Then the Fireworks... is a glorious mix of lush '60s-style pop and forward-looking atmospherics, as if Burt Bacharach and Stereolab had decided to collaborate. Jason Richardson's prominent trumpet work furthers the Bacharach comparison, as do the lush string arrangements and the group's fondness for sunshiny "la-la-la" harmonies. The organ drones, heavily processed guitars, and opaque lyrics are all strictly modern, however. So is the general air of detachment that suffuses the entire album; for all the music's inviting textures, there's something a little cold and aloof about This World, Then the Fireworks.... Perhaps it's singer Mark F.'s deadpan vocal style, or the almost antiseptically clean production (for all the haziness that overlays the songs, it's always a very just-so sort of atmosphere, not the psychedelic miasma that comes from too much tape hiss mixing in with the music), but this album never quite sucks the listener in the way the best albums of this style do. That said, it's still a terrifically listenable album. The Witch Hazel Sound clearly have a much stronger melodic sense than nearly every other band working this stylistic side of the street (the Sea and Cake, the Aluminum Group, High Llamas, etc.), because other than the handful of brief instrumental interludes, every song has a memorable chorus, a clever vocal melody, or a catchy hook. Just this side of perfect, This World, Then the Fireworks... is nonetheless compelling.

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