Short Cuts

Consider "Sahara": Its quavering mandolin and talking drum lend it the feel of a Middle Eastern trance track. Or the joyous disco sass of "I've Gotta Get a Message to You," Moxy's playful reinvention of the Bee Gees chestnut. Or the spastic cabaret oomph of "Boo Time." Or even the campy Fifties girl-group shimmer of "Your New Boyfriend." Really, there's nothing this band won't try.

Fortunately, amid the mayhem, You Will Go to the Moon -- the band's third full-length release -- also has moments of piercing quietude. "Lee" is a gorgeous piece of balladry set to a single, subdued piano and weepy strings. "Love Set Fire" cleaves the tragedy of amour to a creaking accordion. And "Lazlo's Career" is a piece of dreamy guitar pop with a mournful underbelly.

For reasons that I cannot even begin to explain -- without growing tiresome and petulant -- the band's U.S. label, Warner, has released the album's least interesting song (the jangly "Get in the Car") as the album's first single. Do not take this pedestrian track as an indication of what's in store. You Will Go to the Moon is an awesome sonic voyage.

-- Steven Almond

Apartment Life

New York City's Ivy is the latest alternative band to pay homage to the Burt Bacharach/Hal David lexicon of classic pop and perhaps the only one so far to match its ingenious simplicity. While Apartment Life doesn't tell the listener anything especially new, it has an exquisite sense of cross-pollination and gets all the details right. Class abounds here, from elegant songs captured in lush arrangements that glide across one's consciousness with the subtle charm of a fine perfume, to the roster of guests, including members of Smashing Pumpkins, Luna, and Fountains of Wayne, among others. It's obvious that drummer-bassist Adam Schlesinger, also a member of FOW, had a large part in producing the record, as all the wonderful touchstones found on FOW's self-titled debut are also present on Apartment Life. The reverberating guitars, impossibly strong hooks, dreamy vocals, Beatles-esque melodies, and a powerful mix give the new record its presence, allowing French singer Dominique Durand's silky but small voice to skate on top without getting buried under everything else.

Durand's detached, breathlessly hollow style also provides the right counterpoint to the music's deep romanticism and dark corners, recalling the classic European cabaret tradition but with more strength than sexuality.

If there's a downside to Ivy -- and to this album -- it's that the band can be too easily be mistaken for other artists, hindering its ability to build a public identity of its own. Some of these songs could readily be attributed to Lush, Echobelly, Stereolab, or the Kostars, and as perfect as Durand is for the material, her voice may be too soft and nondescript to provide a strong point of recognition for Ivy just yet. But these are certainly minor complaints, considering the band's many merits and the fact that every song here is such a fully realized treat. Apartment Life proves that easy listening can also be challenging, fun, and terrific listening.

-- Robin Myrick

Teenage Fanclub
Songs From Northern Britain

While Teenage Fanclub's familiar rippling rhythm-guitar chords resonate at the core of nearly all of the dozen tracks on Songs From Northern Britain -- in fact, singer-guitarist Norman Blake's appropriately titled "Start Again," which kicks off the new album, opens with an unaccompanied strum, just as the band's record-closing "Heavy Metal II" did on its 1990 debut A Catholic Education -- previously unexplored production touches caress and envelop the new songs, smoothing over the occasional sonic unruliness that has also helped to define the Scottish foursome's likable sound.

Those touches include lusher harmonies (notably on singer-bassist Gerard Love's glockenspiel-flecked "Ain't That Enough"), a covey of horns and a fleeting solo banjo on Blake's plaintive "I Don't Want Control of You", orchestral strings and textural keyboards on Blake and guest collaborator Francis Macdonald's languorous "Planets," a squiggly synth on singer-guitarist Raymond McGinley's buzzing "I Don't Care," a tinkly toy piano on Love's Neil Young-esque "Mount Everest," plus a blip of a Beach Boys-style vocal interlude and an intermittent little waffling sound on Love's head-bobbing "Take the Long Way Round." All good things, incidentally, because the production fillips merely serve the greater good of the each singer-songwriter's innate knack for hooky, midtempo rock-pop.

But the biggest difference on Teenage Fanclub's fifth full-length U.S. release album is very likely its collective attitude, which seems eminently more adult than the brash sneer of A Catholic Education and the nose-thumbing flippancy of its follow-up, 1992's still-remarkable Bandwagonesque. Blake, Love, and McGinley no longer find it necessary to hide behind lyrics that exude irony or snottiness, preferring instead to proffer cringe-free declarations of devotion, especially McGinley's wonderful "Your Love Is the Place Where I Come From," on which he sings, "When I'm on my own I'm lost in space/My freedom's a delusion," and Love's thumping, album-ending "Speed on Light," on which he utters the amazing line, "Only you and me add up." Also a good thing. Very good.

-- Michael Yockel

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