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The Beauty of the Empty Vessel

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Reseña de álbum

The idea of a Sarah Records supergroup might have seemed strange (to put it mildly) to some around 1990 or so. But come 2005 and with the LTM label in full swing reissuing a variety of bands from that stable, such a thing has happened, with the Occasional Keepers bringing together Bobby Wratten from the Field Mice/Northern Picture Library/Trembling Blue Stars and the two core stalwarts of the Wake, Caesar and Carolyn Allen. To top it all off, The Beauty of the Empty Vessel is produced by Sarah veteran Ian Catt, so it's easy to go into this debut effort with certain expectations. But while it's a logical follow-on from the musicians' other work, Beauty exists on its own just fine — one could play it for someone who knew nothing of the band's context and the combination of reflective singing and delicate arrangements could easily be enough. Often it's a matter of the smallest touches having the greatest impact: Caesar's keening melodica on "Concrete Music" floating over a moody ambient collage intro, or the rich electric guitar melody for "In Quiet Isolation," measured, beautiful, and living up to the song title. "The Bracken," which starts the album, serves as a perfect précis for the band's intention — the combination of serene piano, mantra-like acoustic guitar, and soothing woodwind is both tightly arranged and warmly inviting, a formalism that seeks to attract rather than look inward. When the bandmembers take even a slightly rougher approach, the effect is to seem monstrous given the album's calm — thus the shift to distorted vocals on the chorus of "Of Nightingales" is almost like dropping a bomb on a calm hillside. A couple of tracks take a specific keyboard lead approach that slots in (all too readily perhaps) with the "synth pop as emo" school of Magnetic Fields/Postal Service, but think of "J. Carpenter Kid," with calm guest vocals from Beth Arzy (who also sings on the quite Cure-like "Desire"), as a Young Marble Giants tribute instead and all is well.

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The Beauty of the Empty Vessel, The Occasional Keepers
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