Lab Partners - Review for Moonlight Music:
Tuesday June 1, 2010
By Ian Abrahams
This is another album that I've been hanging on to for reviewing for a little while now, and for once it's not just pressures from other writing outlets that's delayed some commentary here but that it just took a little while to really get a feel for this record and to get under its skin since whilst on the surface there's a lot of melodic pop sensibility about the music here, there's actually a lot bubbling under the surface as well.
Firstly the historically perspective here is that this is the third album from Dayton, Ohio's Lab Partners who operate out on the shoegazer / indie band region of space rock (Wicked Branches and Daystar are its predecessors, as well as a couple of EPs – this band goes back as far as 1999 on their discography). They are, at least according to their Facebook page, Michael Smith (guitars, lead vocals, multimoog), Amy Smith (bass, keyboards), Mike Volk (guitar) and Kevin Vaughn (drums), though they've also got some additional musicians on this album. I can't comment on their earlier work, or make any comparison, since Moonlight Music was a nice 'out of the blue' surprise from their label, Pravda Music, but judging from what I'm hearing here, they're a band with a great sense of mood and melody who play some gritty riffs with more than little bit of delicate beauty going on around the edges. It's psychedelic, fuzz-laden and fills the speakers with big sounds even when its being introverted and quiet.
I saw an American review of this album that seemed to convey a sense of disappointment that there wasn't more "cranking up the volume and luxuriating in sonic distortion," which left me rather perplexed, since what I'm listening out for and hearing the most across its 14 tracks is its hazy sheen of day-dreamy reflection that makes the songs here quite compelling in their individual ways. 'Back's To The Wall' (I have an urge to 'sic' that but I'm not clear if it's a misprint on the digipac or not, honestly) is a genuine and heartfelt sounding example of that introspective thoughtfulness, particularly coming in straight after the powerfully anthemic and brash 'Strange'.
'All Is Beautiful' has a sparkly sense of life-affirming zest rippled through its sonic distortions and its almost child-like leads, 'Solar Storm' takes that in another, edgier, and more out-and-out rock direction. Play-out track, 'Open Your Eyes', is an acoustic melancholic rumination. 'We're all hanging by a thread, it's true.' In truth, these are all songs that seem to reach into the heart of what Lab Partner's music is all about, connecting with its listeners with an honesty that bleeds through the power side of their work and underpins the more gossamer parts.
I loved the contrast of their cover artwork (is there a nod to Hawkwind here with the three tepees, I wonder?), that sense of freeness and ancient tradition juxtaposed onto a star-lit moonspace is evocate and highly effective. Musically, they have a nod in the direction of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who they've previously toured with and so you'd also have to pick up something of the Jesus & Mary Chain in their work as well – the second track here, 'It's Funny' has touches of both of those bands going on – but they have a clear sense of their own worth and individuality as well and are very much worth investigating.