People Like Us

Welcome Abroad

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Leave it to People Like Us' Vicki Bennett to turn one of the most significant delays in aviation history into a creative opportunity. Thanks to the massive amounts of carbon dioxide and ash spewed into Europe’s airspace in March and April 2010 by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, Bennett was stranded in the United States, laying the groundwork for the first People Like Us album since 2003. In the years between albums, Bennett released much of her discography for free on the Internet and started the sound art radio show Do or DIY on WFMU. However, her skills are just as sharp as ever on Welcome Abroad; joined by Half Japanese's Jason Willett and Matmos' M.C. Schmidt, she captures the frustration of her enforced stay in the States as it stretched from days to weeks. Using perky elevator music and orchestral versions of well-known pop songs as the base for her finely chopped sampling and recontextualizing, Bennett's tracks have a drifting, rootless feel, traveling without a particular destination in mind and hovering like so much volcano smoke over Europe. As usual, her collages aren’t just amusing in a “spot the sample” way, although pairing Julie Andrews and Jim Morrison on “The Sound of the End of Music” and Marilyn Monroe with the Beatles on “You’ve Got to Know When” is undeniably witty. Instead, she uses this humor to craft Welcome Abroad's narrative, tracing her impatience and frustration. “Happy Lost Songs” wanders from “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” to “Fly Me to the Moon” to “Country Roads”; “The Seven Hills of Rome” spells out culture clash in a hypnotic singsong; and “Wonderful Wonderful” is downright slaphappy, setting a loop of “I want go home” to applause over a buoyant waltz. And despite the cartoony brilliance of tracks like “Driving Flying Rising Falling,” which melds “Bridge on the River Kwai” and Petula Clark, among other sources, into a bustling metropolis, many of Welcome Abroad's best tracks are unabashedly soft and even romantic. “Ever” is an abstract girl group confection, mixing the Ronettes' “Walking in the Rain” and Petula Clark (again) into a hypnotic concoction filled with longing, while “The Look” is one of the album’s tours de force, melding snippets of everyone from Edvard Grieg to Santo & Johnny to Lionel Richie to Elton John into a seven-and-a-half-minute epic of fractured elegance. Like any concept album worth its salt, Welcome Abroad closes with a big finish. “The Atlantic Conveyor” leaves listeners soaring with a pastiche of “Hello Goodbye” and “Born Free,” and nearly as adrift in song as when the album began. Fortunately, Bennett eventually got home to England to complete this playful, thought-provoking album, making it a welcome return in more ways than one.

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