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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Cex - Actual Fucking
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+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
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+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
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+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
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The Reindeer Section
Son Of Evil Reindeer
Bright Star

In the liner notes of Son of Evil Reindeer, the Reindeer Section are photographed like a grade-school class, in four tiers against a bare white wall. It's the kind of picture that would be taken in a cafeteria or gymnasium. In it, 24 of the 27 (!) members present wear a common uniform: white shirts and striped blue ties. In relation to their music, their decision to be portrayed like adolescents is revealing. For many, that age marked the time when the notion of love arrived and took hold, without a vocabulary or a set of instructions. Pure heated feelings coursed uncontrollably. And wading through early crushes, each one its own bottomless pool, was a complicated, amazing and likely devastating series of steps few were equipped to take.

Like love and its complexities, the songs themselves, with simple titles like "Grand Parade" and "Your Sweet Voice," and simple lyrics, often almost spoken, on top of delicate melodies, work on many levels. The fact that Son of Evil Reindeer was recorded in two weeks works in its favor — the album captures a real sense of place, of loss, and, mercifully, of redemption.

These juxtapositions are best expressed with subtlety and certainty in two songs, "Where I Fall" and "Cartwheels," which serve as the album's heart. When Reindeer Section founder/songwriter (and Snow Patrol frontman) Gary Lightbody sings, in a plaintive voice reminiscent of Lou Barlow, "I just want peace/ And quiet in my head/ Can't find it in the bars/ Or in my bed/ If you like I'll take your/ Number from my phone/ Lock the doors and/ Turn the lights out in my home," his last words pass as a whisper.

But then, at just the point when it seems like folly to imagine anything but darkness, optimism and light unpredictably — yet somehow inevitably — surface in the form of "Cartwheels."

The Reindeer Section's first album, Y'All Get Scared Now Ya Hear, also came together quickly, after a dream. As the story goes, Lightbody awoke with an album's worth of songs he knew weren't earmarked for Snow Patrol. Soon after, and after quite a few pints at a Lou Barlow show, he enlisted some mates from other bands he admired to get together and record. With Lightbody as conductor, a loose collective of moonlighting musicians, the Reindeer Section, was born. Participants in the impromtu 10-day session included members of Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Arab Strap and others on the Glasgow scene.

For a record produced on a spirited whim, Y'All Get Scared... was a mostly quiet, folky and introspective collection that, upon listening, provoked the same response as a visit from an old friend. Though the songs were new, they felt familiar — and they were good.

On Son of Evil Reindeer, the cast includes members of Alfie, Idlewild, Teenage Fanclub and The Vaselines, as well as artists from the class of '01. And though 27 musicians really did contribute to the album, it sounds better than the first, and even more lonesome.

The new contributors assimilate seamlessly into the group, yet it's hard not to notice moments, of differing success, when their individual styles are asserted. While Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake is present, for the most part, in spirit, singing backup on two songs, The Vaseline's Eugene Kelly sings a lovely duet, "Strike Me Down," with Jenny Reeve (from Eva) standing in for Kelly's longtime collaborator, Frances McKee. Kelly's gentle singsong interplay with Reeve wouldn't have been out of place — in sound and mood — as a G-Rated B-Side to the Vaseline's "Rory Rides Me Raw" or to "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam," a track covered and made famous by longtime admirer Kurt Cobain on Nirvana's Unplugged in New York.

"Last Song on Blue Tape," with Alfie's Lee Gorton singing lead and brushed along by John Cummings' acoustic guitar — feathery compared with his work as one of Mogwai's anvils — is wispily anchored by Belle & Sebastian's Richard Colburn and Mick Cook on brass and percussion. Due, in large part, to Colburn's melancholy brass work framing the track, "Last Song..." becomes a more overt reflection of his other band's work. It's a good piece but, as it stands on its own, it also stands apart and sounds more like a guest spot than anything else on the album.

As on Y'All Get Scared..., Lightbody is again responsible for composing a set of songs trading mostly in fractured relationships and failed love. For fans of the sad, of quiet contemplation and bare emotion, Son of Evil Reindeer was made to measure. Throughout the album's dozen tracks, the sentiment Lightbody conjures evokes real pain and real beauty.

The Reindeer Section, as a band, are young, but made up of players who are far from neophytes. Their deftness of expression is inspiring. And, considering their numbers, it's impressive that they maintain an unwavering tone and voice.

Son of Evil Reindeer is an accomplished work. As on the first record, the songs on this one never have to jump through hoops to sound real. They just are. And it resonates like an album that's had some time to cook, even though it hasn't. A brand-new band has made a brand-new record that arrives sounding old. Not old as in stale, but, in the best sense, like something weathered and worn. A child arrives, fully formed, like a gift, and somehow knows.

by Jesse Zeifman

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