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The Czars
Before...But Longer
(Bella Union)


Some of you may have read our interview with the Czars and wondered to yo urself, "what do these guys really sound like?" Well, that's what we're gonna do right here and now. As alluded to in the interview, the Czars h ave found a unique balance in their construction of songs. Each member's influences come ringing out strong at different moments on this record, yet as a nod to their group abilities, nobody's style really overpowers t he record. This makes for a beautiful listening experience.

The album opens with the striking "Val." A very Goth bass line, courtesy of Chris Pearson, carries the weight here and drags you in. John Grant' s haunting vocals mingle with a stew of guitar noises and layers. Tarnat ion vocalist Paula Frazer lends her voice to the song (as well as a coupl e others.) When she mixes with Grant's plaintive voice and the swirling guitars, you feel their emotion grab you and the intensity builds. "Any Younger" brings up the energy an iota while still retaining those ringing guitar sounds. When they tighten up later on, they hit with the precisi on of Yo La Tengo. Grant has a classic voice that makes you think "have I heard this guy somewhere else before?" Songs like "Get Used To It" and "What I Can Do For You" prove that the band has a handle on strong songw riting. Their rock-solid arrangements take from the old Paul Simon schoo l of writing, and that mode of thought actually works with their numerous other influences. "Zippermouth" is the crowning jewel in the Czars crow n. Grant sings with more authority and rock presence that at any other m oment. His voice holds up to the challenge without making you bat an eye 2E Think Bono meets Thom Yorke without the pretension. Andy Monley and Roger Green's guitar work goes from Edge styled rock to ethereal drowsin ess on the turn of a card. "Pressure" floats on a bubbly analogue keybo ard vamp augmented by crystalline guitar potions and another thoughtful v ocal. I dig how they integrated Frazer's vocals there at the end. The e thereal groove of "Dave's Dream" sulks by with Jeff Linsenmaier's restrai ned drum pattern and a bountiful selection of guitar. When the whole thi ng hits full stride at the chorus, you become overwhelmed by Grant's temp ered voice and sucked into its swirling vortex. It's a work of pure beau ty. Just to top it all off, Grant and Frazer run through a straightforwa rd duet of Patsy Cline's "Leavin' On Your Mind." I've always wanted to h er sing some Cline, and her and Grant create a very respectful and beauti ful reading of the classic.

Again, the beauty of this record is the ability to blend a heady amount o f related influences into a solid body of work. The album is thoroughly engaging, especially after a few listens, and it's wide ranging appeal. It's been a while since I've heard a record quite like this one-I want to write about every tune here. I challenge you to find a mis-step here, t hat's saying something for a debut. Any fan of that highly textured guit ar music (like Kitchens of Distinction, Slowdive, etc.) would be pleased with this one. You fans of the "singer-songwriter" thing will also be mo ved by the intimate capabilities of the members and the solid, traditiona l pop songwriting. You couldn't hope for a stronger record all the way a round, and the Czars prove themselves more than worthy.

-tom topkoff

Track Listing:
1. Val
2. Concentrate
3. Get Used To It
4. Any Younger
5. Gangrene
6. Stay
7. Dave's Dream
8. What I Can Do For You
9. Zippermouth
10. Pressure
11. Leavin' On Your Mind






 


Mike Doughty



Pink Floyd

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