Belong, "Common Era"

Saturday, 19 March 2011 21:00 Stephen Bush Reviews - Albums and Singles
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cover imageBelong's second album (and first for Kranky) arrives half a decade after their debut full-length on Carpark and a couple of abbreviated, vinyl-only releases. Luckily, Common Era is worth the wait. This is my favorite recording that Belong have made—a collection of nine ambient, washed-out pop songs folded into a labyrinth of hazy, disorienting production, like a beautiful snapshot purposely taken out of focus, its colors smeared and bleeding into one another, blurry and dreamlike.

Kranky

Common Era - Belong

As on many Kranky records, there is a thick, hazy ambience at play on Common Era—equal parts guitar feedback, reverb, echo, static and noise—that wraps snugly around each of its songs and unifies the album. The production is, perhaps, a double-edged sword: on a poor stereo, I suspect the album may sound muddy; however, on great headphones (which I humbly suggest every serious music listener invest in), the details and nuances come to life. Instruments, vocals and ambient sounds bleed into one another seamlessly, but sound slightly askew and off-balance, like a fractured, distant radio transmission. The overall effect is a surreal, enveloping warmth in the production that ties the songs together.

The songs on Common Era lean toward a pop music blueprint underneath the hypnotic production: thoughtfully composed and sequenced, each with memorable structures and hooks. The brooding, patient songs (and foggy, grayscale cover artwork) recall the dark grandeur of the Cure's Faith and subsequent single "Charlotte Sometimes," yet are altogether much more complex, drawing from dream pop, ambient and drone music in pursuit of something new. There are vocals scattered throughout; individual words and phrases are discernible from time to time, but they are buried deeply in the mix and written vaguely, open to interpretation, so as not to become a focal point. The hazy, static-soaked production ensures continuity, allowing the songs to contribute to the album's effectiveness without obscuring their individual charms.

At its heart, Common Era is a modern pop album buried within gorgeous, overwhelming washes of sound. It can be difficult to draw from dream pop and shoegaze without sounding like a tribute or cover band, but Belong have done it—I haven't heard a better album this year that kindly tips its hat to those sounds, then says, "No, thank you," and moves well beyond them.

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Last Updated on Monday, 11 April 2011 13:38