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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
The High Dials
War Of The Wakening Phantoms
Rainbow Quartz

Rating: 8.5/10 ?


September 9, 2005
I will reluctantly admit, pop music can be tiring - so much so, in fact, that I am writing this review while taking a break from another pop album that, though well constructed and even inspired, I can't stomach anymore. The High Dials' War of the Wakening Phantoms is a rare gem of its genre; it is a record that sounds fresh, vital and necessary upon each and every listen. Popsters and pop composers take note: there need to be more albums like this one.

What are the reasons it stands apart? There could be any host of theories: that the band drinks from the inexplicably hip springs of Montreal, that they've won the undying endorsement of 'E Street' Van Zandt, that they draw their interesting influences from across the psychedelic map (Love, Super Furry Animals, the Flaming Lips, even some Cure-ish guitars)… but more than any of these, it's that their pop can be at once pristine and dirty. Every piece and thematic gesture is placed with meticulous detail and yet the production does not come off as false, overwhelming or even characteristically light. This is, by most counts, a troubled record that keeps a longing eye to the stars, and often switches between the two views.

Adventurous but never unrealistic, mystical and pastoral but never silly, dreamy but immediate, this ornate album dons infinite shades of green. It is a fascinating work of unassuming grooves, windy preoccupation and giddy reflection. It is audaciously grounded, unafraid to be real before the surreal, poppy backdrop. With moments of brilliantly played remorse and redemption, it is both excitedly jangly and sadly romantic.

While some cuts attempt to do a little too much, the High Dials can hardly be faulted for their creativity when meshing seeming contrasts together. At times it works, as on "A River Haunting," where synthed-out moments of roller disco are championed by a folky underdog: lofty, understated harmonics win out over colourful, futuristic bursts. At other times, however, the formula can be a bit overwhelming: the thudding, clicking drum machine of "Your Eyes Are a Door" adds nothing but oddity to the Moody Blues-style druids' chant and the clear-eyed, Medieval love song, "Dust in the Sun" travels from past to indeterminate future a bit too quickly. These jolting moments are minor quibbles, however, when presented in the bright, bright light that engulfs the rest of the album.

"Soul in Lust" arranges a meeting of the Kinks and New Wave legends, battling to victory in a glorious cacophony of noise. "Our Time is Coming Soon" pounds away at pop clichés and insists its very title as plucky, imaginatively used sitars mute their usual psychedelic tendencies to restate the band's case. On "Winter Ghosts", a folk minstrel relays an unbelievable, triumphant legend, as "Master of the Clouds" tells the villain's share with water-damaged, Bossanova-inspired guitars and cutting do-wop disparities. Moments are inspired by the Beatles - on their homage to "Across the Universe", the equally celestial "The Lost Explorer" - just as often as they are by the sweet simplicity of K Records (as heard on the dreamy, happy-go-lucky "Higher and Brighter"). Every twist and turn is terrifically satisfying. As pop music goes, the High Dials show an impressive and capable range, catering to each everyday whim and taste. War of the Wakening Phantoms is an extraordinary pop album, suitable for ordinary life.

Reviewed by Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other reviews by Sarah Peters

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