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Lenola | Sharks & Flames (Homesleep)
For their fifth full-length, Philadelphia trio (now expanded to a five-piece) Lenola have a European release via Italy's Homesleep label. All but a half dozen of this double album's twenty songs were penned by founder Jay Laughlin, the rest by or co-written with Sean Byrne (Mazarin, Twin Atlas), engineer and third core member Dave Grubb. In the studio the Laughlin/Byrne axis arrange and perform the music, Grubb only picking up a guitar or stepping behind keyboards or a mic when the band take the stage, whereby they are joined by newest recruits Josh Brown (bass) and Jeff Scioli (keyboards, guitar). It's a curious arrangement but a seemingly successful one, with 'Sharks & Flames' providing ample evidence of that.

From a simplistic acoustic base, Lenola add layers of sound and what can best be described as a psychedelic sheen to their material, giving it a sense of timelessness that's tough to pin down. There are nods to the past yet enough contemporary characteristics to cut short any retro accusations. Laughlin's voice may resemble that of Doug Martsch, but Lenola these days seem to have moved away from piercing guitar licks in favour of a more buoyant aesthetic, whilst still taking the odd foray into the land of the epic (see Impossible, All You Hide).

Whether this record (or any record) needs to be a two disc set is open to debate, but I'd hazard a guess that a more concise single disc would have emphasised the quality of the best material here. Instead there is a tendency for songs to blur into one another and the Lenola signature sound is perhaps too restrictive to engage for a full twenty song listen. A twelve or thirteen track selection would probably have better served the likes of Shallow and Often (tucked away at the tail-end of the second disc), and fend off those Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev comparisons which dog the band.

Matt Dornan
March-April 2003