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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
+ Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
+ Deloris - Ten Lives
+ Minimum Chips - Lady Grey
+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
+ The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls Together
+ The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
+ The Places - Songs For Creeps
+ Camille - Le Fil
+ Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
+ Various Artists - Musics In The Margin
+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
+ Dudley Perkins - Expressions
+ Growing - Color Wheel
+ Red Carpet - The Noise Of Red Carpet
+ The Essex Green - Cannibal Sea
+ Espers - II
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44.1 kHz Archive

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If you've listened closely to The National's Alligator, you will have noticed the wonderful, very subtle use of classical instruments — strings primarily — to deepen and enrich the group's sounds. Here Padma Newsome, the sixth, unofficial member of The National, brings his ideas to the foreground, working with National guitarist Bryce Dessner, Rachael Elliott and Thomas Kozumplik to weave nuanced, achingly beautiful chamber compositions.

These cuts linger somewhere outside the traditional boundaries that separate experimental pop from classical music. Despite the participation of Newsome, Dessner and, on one track, his brother Aaron on bass, Clogs are not a side project of The National. In fact, they've been around longer than that band — and their new album, Lantern, the fourth full-length, deserves to be considered wholly on its own merits.

The disc starts with the very beautiful "Kapsberger," a shimmering meditation on a baroque lute composition by Johann Hieroynmus Kapsberger, here played on baroque guitar by Luca Tarantino. The second cut, "Canon," is far more modern, with its lingering bassoon tones and slow ritual beat. The melodica, a hybrid of keyboard and wind instrument, makes its first appearance in this track, sounding like an especially melancholy accordion as it winds its way through the melody. The piece was written by Charles-Eric Charrier and Rasim Biyikli of Man, a French duo that favors the same string and melodica palette as Clogs and has sometimes collaborated with the band. These first two are the only tracks not primarily composed by Newsome, yet there's no sharp break between them and the originals that follow. Perhaps the string parts come further to the front, dense and full of urgency on "5/4," wistful and haunting by "2:3:5", and lushly romantic in the Gypsy-tinged "Death and the Maiden." Yet there's a continuity to the album as a whole that transcends multiple inspirations.

Midway through the album comes the title track, the only one with words. The vocals arise late in the game from a flickering landscape of scraped violin, soft steel drums (or some keyboard that sounds like them) and reticent picked guitars. Newsome's voice is high and pure, but definitely within the pop tradition, making this sound more like a song than a composition, blurring the boundaries a little further between instrumental rock experiment and chamber-music tradition. It is odd and very moving to hear a human voice emerging out of these carefully considered instrumental textures, and the cut is clearly a highlight.

Still, it might be the difference that makes it so. A whole album of such songs might well be more ordinary and less interesting than what we have with Lantern. The disc returns to its opening mood with "Tides of Washington Bridge," the melodica snaking in and out of subtle and shifting dual-picked guitar lines. "Song of the Cricket" picks up the intensity, skirting chaos in its instrumental breakdown, then setting things to order with a precise bout of staccato bassoon and strings. There's a pristine delicacy to the plucked patterns of "Fiddlegree," a rough balance of sweep and punctuation in "Compass," and a very 21st-century urgency to pulsating "Voisins." The final cut "Tides (Piano)" is, as the title suggests, all piano, exquisite and thoughtful, a slowed-down trill of matched notes under a melody that seems punctuated by question marks.

There have been a number of classical-leaning projects recently from musicians more closely associated with rock bands — Belle Orchestre (with members of Arcade Fire), Anima (who typically accompany Sigur Rós), Anti-Social Music (Franz Nicolay of the Hold Steady) — and this one is exceptionally beautiful and assured. Don't be put off by the classical label, or worry that it might take a lot of background to understand and appreciate Lantern. It's all right there in the music, and all you have to do is listen.

by Jennifer Kelly

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