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Con Dolore
This Sad Movie
Claire Records

With many bands turning to the musical arrangements of the sixties and seventies for inspiration, Con Dolore find breathing room in the mainstream pop of ten to fifteen years ago. Since indie rock thrived largely as a reaction against the over-production and insincerity of late eighties/early nineties pop music, not many indie artists consider this brand of pop as a viable foundation. On their 2001debut release This Sad Movie, Con Dolore attempts to navigate this territory by filling in the emotional gap behind the synth-pop veneer.

Furthering the sound of their previous band Polar, Kristy Moss and Ed Ballinger conceived This Sad Movie as the soundtrack for a fictional movie about a relationship. Without exploring a definite narrative through the lyrics, Moss and Ballinger move their two lovers through variations on a dream-pop mood. The idea lends itself to the "synth + heavily effected guitar + drum machine + relationship strife = the path to the high schoolerís heart" pop credo, and Moss and Ballinger invest themselves heavily in this formula. The thirteen tracks on This Sad Movie at times employ trite lyrics or cliched keyboard riffs, leading listeners into a synthetic world only to surprise us with an intricate rhythm, a heartfelt vocal, and a deeper emotional current. Fortunately, there are traces of an indie heart beating underneath the plastic.

The album begins with samples of waves, foghorns, and scraping pieces of metal, giving a sense of place that never seems to make much of a difference in terms of the movie. It becomes clearer as the record progresses that the movie motif, like the eighties façade, serves more as a thematic undercurrent than an overarching principle. The samples give way to a piano instrumental that grasps you in an early-nineties way, and I half expected to hear Mariah Carey start singing. An electronic drone introduces "The Meredith Trilogy" which outlines the course of the relationship from the first explosions like the 4th of July in "The 7th" until She said goodbye until I cried in "She Said Goodbye". In "The 7th", the joy of falling in love feeling is punctuated by a spastic drum loop and doo-wop backing vocals a la Yo La Tengo, creating rhythms more likely to stir up your insides than the lyrics. The next two tracks in the trilogy find Moss and Ballinger sharing vocal duties. This strategy becomes most effective during "She Said Goodbye", where Mossís character seems to be wielding an eerie power over Ballingerís.

After establishing a solid groove through the first four songs, Con Dolore move on with two of the albumís weakest tracks and introduce one of the albumís weakest stylistic devices in the process. On "All Our Favorite Cats", a deluge of effects muddles the instruments and vocals, and an awkward drum loop offers little support. The following track, "Fractions Of A Second 1", provides an extended and remixed version of "All Our Favorite Cats" before giving way to a thirty second xylophone piece that comes off as a mix between Tortoise and Philip Glass. This stylistic device of ending a track with random instrumental sections recurs through the rest of the album and proves to be little more than distracting.

"Feed Us All" gets This Sad Movie back on track with a chord progression that would fit well alongside Disintegration-era Cure, but "The Happy Girl" stretches its lyrics awkwardly over a chorus that tries to inject life into the song through strange rhythmic accents. It seems little coincidence that the standout tracks thus far on the album have been Ballinger compositions while the few exceptions have been Moss songs. The remaining four songs, however, find Moss writing on a higher level. "Dream 1" marks a return to the Goth-rock of "Feed Us All" with more of a bent towards the Smashing Pumpkins than the Cure. "Why Are You Hiding" succeeds where "The Happy Girl" failed, beautifully sustaining the melody over a choppy progression. The title-track prepares to send off the album on an utterly simple and moving statement about the sadness of love until an unlisted track destroys the mood with irrelevant studio chatter and instrumental demo sections. The fact that This Sad Movie clocks in at 73:59 suggests that Con Dolore added the extra track and the extra instrumentals at the end of regular tracks in order to be able to fill up a disk. If so, the effort proved misguided and unnecessary.

Ignoring the remixes, the tagged-on instrumentals, and the studio banter bonus track, the core songs on This Sad Movie carry a strong emotional weight. While the movie motif proves to be frivolous by the end, the synth-pop structure succeeds with the help of quality songwriting and arrangements. Perhaps a notch below contemporaries The Album Leaf and self-proclaimed influence Julee Cruise, Con Dolore have staked out a respectable niche for themselves amongst indie throwbacks.

ó Matt King

Track Listing:

  1. Opening Theme
  2. The 7th
  3. Sheís Withering
  4. She Said Goodbye
  5. All Our Favorite Cats
  6. Fractions Of A Second 1
  7. Feed Us All
  8. The Happy Girl
  9. Dream
  10. Unexpected Love
  11. Why Are You Hiding?
  12. Fraction Of A Second 2
  13. This Sad Movie

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