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Hope Well | The Curved Glass (Cutty Shark)
Before I launch into this, I think it fair to warn readers that this is a psychedelic record. If you have problems hacking your way through dense jungles of scything guitars and feedback, squelching keys and synths, mellotrons, strings and piano abuse, abrasive discordance, cavernous echo, and random bursts of cluttered madness, then move straight on to the next review. If, however, you appreciate the unorthodox approach to pop and mischievous experimentation as displayed by the ilk of The Flaming Lips and The Silver Apples, then Hope Well's second album, The Curved Glass, should be right up your alley. The core of this band from Poughkeepsie, upstate New York, are the brothers Russo ?? as rich an Italian name as any to pop up in 'The Sopranos' unless, as here, they were christened Jason (vocals / guitar) and Justin (keyboards). The Russo's also work with Mercury Rev, so it is no surprise to see Max Liechtenstein behind the desk, and augmented by drummer Dalia Garih and Reno Bo on assorted percussion, they have come up with something quite wonderful. At the album's heart is a quadruple whammy in Moonman, Lazyday, Memorial Acclamation B and Christmas Now. The first of these ?? an instrumental ?? comes over like a twisted Air, but the menace created by the military drum pattern and restrained choppy guitars provoke images of Pompeii in ruins rather than Paris in spring, if you get my drift. The dreamy, swirling Lazyday boasts an aching solo from Jason. His vocal is of the whiney school, so in need of patenting by Americans, and best displayed on the lovely Christmas Now. The track opens with a gentle strum over what may be a throbbing generator, that pleading voice grating and delighting at once. Memorial Acclamation B is another instrumental, built on multiple layers of voice and squealing, pining guitars. It builds to a grandiose climax, assured and measured in delivery that Echoboy could only ever hint at. Elsewhere, on the single Safe As Milk, there is a hook lifted directly from Lou's Satellite Of Love; the squalling wig-out of There Is Nothing; vocal-pummelling distorted guitars on Thefish, and the fractured closer, Light And Water, which wraps things up with a sound approximating that of someone walking along a path of crisps. There's no filler here, but the indulgent, pointless reprise of opener The Angel Is My Watermark descends into soulless noise, and the frenzied psyche-gospel of the hidden track oversteps the mark of my usual track-length tolerance levels. Overall, the music is so intoxicating that the lyrics barely matter. There is mention of Novocain, lazy days and floaty afternoons, trees and kings and things, but, apart from the brief moments when the spotlight is on Jason's Conor Oberst-isms, his voice and lyrics are just another part of the cacophonous orchestra. There can be no denying that across all genres,'extreme' music is making serious inroads to mainstream acceptance. The Curved Glass is certainly not extreme when placed alongside, say, Atari Teenage Riot or those found lurking on 'The Wire's Outer Limits page, but it will certainly upset some. To me, it's an 80% near-perfect pop album of cavalier spirit and sonic adventure, and I'd put good money on Primal Scream's next effort sounding just like it. You heard it here first.

Tom Sheriff
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001