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Album Review

Fans of a certain stripe of semi-twee indie guitar pop will have their new favorite record within the first 30 seconds of Scrabbel's "Sena Song." Shimmering guitar overtones blend with hazy, vaguely psychedelic harmonies for a sound that's instantly familiar to anyone who owned more than a couple of Elephant 6 records back in the '90s, but wisely, the San Francisco-based collective doesn't rely merely on indie pop nostalgia: 90 seconds in, the song transforms itself entirely, becoming an instrumental meditation for bass, drums, and cello that itself mutates into something akin to one of Stereolab's gentler reveries. Clearly, Scrabbel (once a duo but now a project name for singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Dan Lee and various heavy friends) has little interest in exploring any one musical idea for very long, but what keeps 1909 from sounding like a scattershot collection of fragmentary ideas is Lee's genuinely impressive knack for pop song hooks. Whenever the album threatens to get top-heavy with cool sounds and ornate arrangements for their own sake, Lee throws out a concise, catchy indie marvel like the urgent, romantic "Last Train," which then provides breathing room for the next rococo instrumental like the Van Dyke Parks-style orchestral confection "Save the Green Planet" or the cinematic, oboe-driven "All the Things We Have." Chamber pop cult heroes the Ladybug Transistor (whose singer Gary Olson guests here) is the most obvious point of comparison, thanks to Lee's breathy voice and winsome lyrics, and Hellen Jo's perfectly deployed cello parts, not to mention a similar set of vintage songwriting and arrangement influences, but Lee is a more immediately engaging songwriter and a far better singer. 1909 is certainly one of those records that says as much about who Dan Lee likes as who he is, but its inventive, varied sound takes it much farther than many records in this unapologetically derivative indie pop style.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

The San Francisco-based project Scrabbel make knotty-yet-breezy, wry-yet-whimsical indie pop tunes. In their moodier moments they bring to mind Mates of State and American Analog Set, and in their spun-sugariest moments they conjure up Tiger Trap and Heavenly. Dan Lee and #poundsign#'s Becky Barron teamed up to form Scrabbel in 1999, and the duo made their live debut alongside the Aislers Set at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival the following year. Scrabbel's self-titled...
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1909, Scrabbel
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