With their EP From the Cliffs, the Guillemots introduced themselves as daring, energetic, inventive performers for whom traditional pop notions of harmony and rhythm could be discarded, or at least tweaked, if a better opportunity presented itself. And despite all the warning signs of pretension and inaccessibility, the Guillemots were able to create in From the Cliffs something that was very listenable and fun. Of course, there were problems, but they were problems of over-ambition and -eagerness, and they seemed easy enough to remedy without disrupting the band's rather intricate overall sound. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise that their debut full-length, Through the Windowpane, is a little empty in comparison. Instead of following the lead of the standout EP tracks "Trains to Brazil" and "Made-Up Lovesong #43" (both of which were singles and both of which are among the best cuts on the album), most of the other songs on Through the Windowpane take a slower, more melancholic, and sparser approach, presenting an almost sonically disconcertingly juxtaposition. "If the World Ends," "Redwings," "Little Bear," and "Blue Would Still Be Blue" are all very quiet, relying more on the strength of leader Fyfe Dangerfield's voice -- which is often mixed at a very low level -- instead of any kind of instrumental arrangement, and in doing so the albums ignores the strength of the band as a whole and ends up as something fairly ordinary sounding, while letting predictable chords and phrases dictate the tone instead of the band's musical ingenuity. The fact that many of these songs are well over three or even four minutes doesn't help the fact that they seem to drag on without ever doing anything, or going anywhere, or showing us anything we haven't seen before. Because the Guillemots are certainly capable of giving us what we haven't got. They're interested in, even obsessed with, the idea of physical space (particularly through the imagery of a windowpane, which is alluded to numerous times throughout the album) and of making space where there is confinement, but it is these slower, emptier songs that are the most claustrophobic, the most constrained, and the most forced. However, and perhaps this just attests to the talents of the musicians and the arranging skills of Dangerfield, their faster, more complex pieces -- including and even exemplified by the 12-minute cinematic opus "São Paulo," which moves from Morricone to Brubeck to symphonic swells to a Latin groove -- give the feeling of expanse and freedom. Nothing is tied down, everything can move freely and where ever it wants, yet each comes together as part of a very well-constructed whole. It's adventurous but it's still accessible, and contrasts sharply with the near stifling silence of the other pieces. But there's still a kind of inconsistency in the development of Through the Windowpane, an inconsistency that can't quite work itself out in sweeping strings and vaguely dissonant chords, and unfortunately, this diminishes the power of what the album really could be.
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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown