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The Sand And The Stars

The Sand And The Stars
(Drag City/Domino)

After listening to The Sand And The Stars, it seems that Movietone is getting as far away as possible from the group that many of their past members hail from (Flying Saucer Attack). The lo-fi noise sound that seemed to dominate their first few releases (and even crept into their last disc, The Blossom Filled Streets) has gone away almost completely, leaving the group creating a sort of an understated psychedelic folk that's all their own on their fourth full-length album.

As the title hints at, the record was not only recorded in parts on a beach, but in a church, a warehouse, and on a cliff path by a gorge. Perhaps it was the open atmosphere or simply something else, but this newest release is also easily the least bleak by the group. Heck, some songs are even downright celebratory, which is definitely a shock if you've been following them for any time at all now. Much of the release exudes an aquatic vibe, although it's more sea-shanty than anything else. In several places, the locations bleed through into the songs, giving them an even more captured feel.

"We Rode On" is one of those tracks where the environment definitely plays a large part in the song. As guitars and banjos are plucked and clarinets provide a warm breathy backdrop, you can hear waves lapping in the background while Rachel Brooks sings in her usual, slightly monotone way. Everything builds to a soft crescendo at the end, with the horns (including a bass saxophone) dueling with the ways in a way that really works. Likewise, "Beach Samba" (which may be one of the most upbeat tracks the group has done) moves along with an almost happy shuffle anchored by double bass and more banjo.

Elsewhere, things are different in little ways as well. "In Mexico" is a twangy piece of folky Americana highlighted with a gorgeous cello melody and tin-can percussion while "Snow Is Falling" (the track recorded in a church) has the resonance of a slinky old Nina Simone track. Overall, The Sand And The Stars is the sound of a group really coming into their own. There's no hiding behind effects or noise or anything else, and most of the tracks sound like one-mic recordings (in a good way) in which the mic was simply placed in the middle of the group and they played their songs, wherever the setting. A great little record from a group that most people haven't heard anything about.

Rating: 7.75