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+ 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
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+ Cex - Actual Fucking
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
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+ 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
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Gram Rabbit

When we last caught up with Gram Rabbit, their rabbit-eared singer Jessica and her partner Todd Rutherford were crafting scratchy, minimalist cult anthems like "Land of Jail" and "Witness" out of the most rudimentary of tools. Now they're back with those same elements — Jessica's new-wave goddess voice, the static of programmed beats, infectiously bizarre pop lyrics and the occasional sampled desert eccentric — but the sound is richer, fuller and more orchestrated. There's a reverbed shimmer to Ennio Morricone-influenced "Angels Song," with its glossy piano runs and surf-guitar chords, that wasn't there on the debut. Where before the songs seemed like charcoal sketches, now they're executed in big washes of color, sounds echoing over each other until the whole canvas is covered.

The new density may partly come from the fact that Gram Rabbit has picked up a couple of members. In addition to Miss Jessica and Rutherford, the album credits Travis Cline for samples and noise detail and Eric Johannson on lead guitar. Co-producer Ethan Allen kicks in some programming, and there's a real live drummer, Brian McLeod, on at least some of the cuts.

This wall-of-sound treatment starts with the first cut, the psyche-spooky "Waiting in the Country," whose guitar chords hang in the air like smoke rings, clearing only just in time for a flourish of Spanish trumpet. Then they pile up again, one on top of the other, as the song enters its final lap of "whooo-oooh" wordless choruses. "Bloody Bunnies (Superficiality)" sounds more like the first record, its synthetic snare pops punctuating the singsong-y verse but leaving plenty of space. There's a big rock chorus, kind of like Bananarama doing a metal cover, then the song reverts to its playground chant motif. (Or to put it more bluntly, the melody sounds a lot like the notes when you say "nyah-nyah-nyah-nyaaaaah-nyaaah.") The band's dark side comes through in "Charlie's Kids," an ode to Charles Mansonís followers. Here disturbing lyrics like "They were spawned from LSD and hedonistic insanity" clash interestingly with super-sweet electro-arrangements; it is, to put it mildly, a little off.

"Angels Song" is the album's clear highlight, a rich tapestry of echoing guitar notes, cascades of piano and sweet, 1960s-folk harmonies. Here the balance between Gram Rabbit's endearing eccentricity and musical embellishments is just right. "Paper Heart," by contrast, quickly submerges under the faux-drama weight of string sweeps and timpani rolls. The album recovers nicely with "Slowpoke," with its alternating bouts of spooky chants and giant drum-filled choruses. It sounds like Gram Rabbit empowered, not overwhelmed. Gram Rabbit take another shot at "Jesus & I," whose weird opening harmonies can be found on Music to Start a Cult To, spinning the song out into a late-Beatles psychedelic reverie, intercut with the sound of sirens and clearing the way for Jessica's sweet, oddly sexy voice.

Overall, Cultivation is sweeter, prettier and more accomplished than Music to Start a Cult To but it doesn't have the staying power. There was something enchanting about a band deadpanning out songs for "Cowboys & Aliens" in a lonely desert recording studio, donning rabbit ears and fueling up on mushrooms for a wild and wooly ride. This feels more like a record than a life statement... an interesting record, but still.

by Jennifer Kelly

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