Imitation Electric Piano

Trinity Neon

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After the release of their self-titled debut EP, some wondered if Imitation Electric Piano could deliver the same kind of challenging yet accessible music in a full-length album. For the most part, the answer is yes; Trinity Neon builds on the fusion-meets-lounge pop of Imitation Electric Piano and adds a few new twists, all the while avoiding an overly self-indulgent sound -- one of the pitfalls of making the kind of music they make. Fortunately, Simon Johns and crew avoid this trap by keeping instrumental showboating to a minimum and making the most of their witty sense of humor. It doesn't hurt that the band also keeps a pop sensibility at the forefront of its music, especially on tracks like the album opener, "Gin Lane," which, with its mix of brass, shimmering synths, and Johns' endearingly humble vocals, recalls the brainy pop of Jim O'Rourke's Drag City output. While the group is clearly highly technically skilled -- particularly drummer Ashley Marlowe, whose prowess with swift tempo shifts and jazz and rock flourishes makes him the heart of Imitation Electric Piano's sound -- Trinity Neon is refreshingly free of indulgent playing. Most of the tracks, such as "Emphatic Yet Melodic," "An Hour Is Sixty Minutes Too Long," and "Small Science," which sounds a little bit like Raymond Scott's Soothing Sounds for Baby all grown up, are surprisingly restrained, offering just a taste of the band's chops only when it's in service to the music. These showcases include "King's Evil," which begins with a delicate, Asian-inspired hammered dulcimer melody before switching to uptempo chamber jazz led by Marlowe's driven drums and Imitation Electric Piano's omnipresent namesakes. "Khartoum Venus" adds trumpets and Hammonds to the mix, and also boasts a percolating, Stereolab-esque bassline; ironically enough, Trinity Neon is both more authentically jazzy and less pretentious than that band's later efforts. "Theme for an Imitation Electric Piano" puts both the band's skills and wit on display, adding a boogie rock twist that allows the group to show off some tight drumming and formidable keyboard and guitar licks (as well as intentionally dippy lyrics like "rockin' and rollin' with the Imitation Electric Piano"). Tracks such as "Chronicle of a Spirit Foretold" and "Don't Tell Me I'm Wrong (But You Are)" show that the group can craft slinky, cinematic reveries with the best of them, but there's still something jaunty and lively to even the darkest, slowest songs here; pieces like the elegant, charming jam "It Sounds Like a Party" seem to suit the group's playful personality best. While some of Trinity Neon's pieces might be a shade too long, Imitation Electric Piano's juxtaposition of poppy melodies and jazzy structures not only makes for a very enjoyable full-length from the band, it also suggests there may still be some life in the mostly moribund post-rock genre.

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