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When the Madhouses Appear
Lady Monk Records
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Long Beach's the Fling may be suggesting something chaotically insane with their album title and artwork, but on the quartet's debut album, following a debut EP 2008 and a single last year, the group is aiming for a clear, careful formalism.
There's a sense of gentle fusion at work throughout When the Madhouses Appear, a squaring of a variety of pop-rock trends over time centered around a definite post-Beatles line of descent.
The swooning harmonies throughout from lead singer Dustin Lovelis and his bandmates, whether quick wordless interjections as on "Wanderingfoot" or grouped lyric singing on "No Sleep" and "Dry the Rain" set the tone from the start.
As a result, it's pretty easy to hear echoes of any number of Fab Four-inspired art-pop bands like ELO and Jellyfish--in the attractively fuzzed and feedback-tinged riffs as much as the vocals. A sense of big sweeping arrangements are another key element-the building cascade of "Strangers" being a prime example, along with "Friend of Mine"-that suggests groups like the Waterboys or, more recently, the Helio Sequence (not to mention a sometimes massive drum sound that captures producer Dave Fridmann's full-bodied punch for bands like the Flaming Lips).
Those two factors don't provide the whole summary of the band's work-there's a steel guitar twang courtesy of Brett Hendry and Raymond Richards on songs such as "Devil's Man" and "Nothing Makes Sense" that works nicely, for instance--but it frames what the group's doing best, something that isn't groundbreaking but which is an enjoyable listen. Whether their future transforms what they have into something uniquely theirs is something that time will tell.