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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.
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 » 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!
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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
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Unsparing Sea
A Cloud in the Cathedral

Rating: 8/10 ?

February 28, 2008
Despite its stature as the smallest and shallowest of all the Great Lakes, Lake Erie has claimed its fair share of innocent lives. It may not be an unsparing sea, but such tragedies as the wreck of the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald have been immortalized in song (by Gordon Lightfoot) and beer (by the Great Lakes Brewing Company's outstanding porter). A Cloud in the Cathedral, the debut LP from Cleveland natives Unsparing Sea, gives us a dozen ripping good yarns from days of yore, drawing inspiration from the environs of Cleveland's shores.

"As sure as the trees grow/ I'm wide awake," yowls J.R. Bennett on the album's opening shanty, "O!form, O!place." Bennett's vocals immediately recall Wayne Coyne circa Transmission from the Satellite Heart and Clouds Taste Metallic, slightly off-key and straining, while the lyrical content reminds us of The Decemberists (the band, in a list that would make Colin Meloy proud, describes the album as "twelve drunken hymns… and stories of ghosts and serpents, sailers [sic] and soldiers, wars and rumors of war, the Lord, the Anti-Christ, black hearts, cigarettes, fowl speak, lion's teeth, and sinking ships"). Unlike Meloy, however, Bennett's lyrics are not tremendously poetic, though he tries ("I've been around ships/ that sail. Bayonets and/ silver whales. Civil wars/ and throwing stones/ God loves your tired bones"). Sinking ships are essential pieces of Bennett's lexicon.

As for the music, it is superb. Tara Klein's beautiful cello work features prominently in nearly every song, which adds a certain sense of longing to the album. Some of the arrangements are purely gorgeous, as on the string-centered "A Lion With No Teeth." A Cloud in the Cathedral is often somber, with melancholia wandering throughout the tales. The album's mood reminded me of the two Mermaid Avenue volumes, Billy Bragg and Wilco's compilations of Woody Guthrie material, but in a maritime setting. Bennett contributes his talents on the guitar, piano, and saw, with David Maison and Marc Howell rounding out the official group. A handful of collaborators contributed to the album as well, offering their skills on percussion, organ, and, most interestingly, "eeriness."

I'm slightly torn here, as I absolutely loved the atmosphere that A Cloud in the Cathedral creates. It's often sad and moving, though the storytelling is sometimes more abstract than detailed. But I just can't get past Bennett's vocals, which at times distract from the arrangements. They're really the only thing stopping the album from near-greatness. Let me admit, though, that the voices of Wayne Coyne and Colin Meloy once grated on me, too, but with time they found ways to work. And so I'll give Bennett's unique style a chance to grow on me and mature. Ultimately A Cloud in the Cathedral is close, very close, like all of those star-crossed teams of Cleveland sport have been on the storied shores of the great lake of Erie.

Reviewed by Eric J. Morgan
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Eric J. Morgan is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Colorado. He has an orange cat named Nelson and longs for the day when men and women will again dress in three-piece suits and pretty dresses to indulge in three-martini lunches and afternoon affairs.

See other reviews by Eric J. Morgan



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