The first thing that strikes you with this record is the Factory meets Teenbeat Graphica art style. Knowing that Jim Rao does have tastes that lean in that direction, the cover didn't really surprise me. It's kind of a futuristic looking affair, but the "future" as imagined from a 1950s or 1960s viewpoint. In a rare case of judging a book by its cover, the cover--very similar to Factory, Teenbeat, and other labels of distinction-- is much truer to the style Jim goes for than some of his other releases, but that's a moot point. When you pop this little disk on, however, beautiful things start to play.
Rao has the prolific nature of Bob Pollard, except that he's making dream-pop. The one good truth about prolific artists is that, over time, they start to outshine their recording medium/format/styles, and this record, this glorious record, makes one forgive Rao of occasionally putting out not so strong releases. With A Shadow Of Eclipse and Other Phases of the Moon, one starts to notice that Rao's quietly turned into a master of quiet, low-key, lo-fi new wave space pop, and those of us "in the know" have been blessed with a record of quiet charm, twinkling pianos, and subtle beauty.
Yes, he still has the definite Durutti Column-style thing going on, but he's honed this to such a fine point that you don't automatically recognize the influence, and it seems he's doing more beat-oriented tunes now and he's going for a fuller sound, rather than one man on a guitar and keyboard. Some of these tunes even sound like a full band as opposed to the one-man thing he's known for. What is consistant is that Rao still has that shy, understated croon; one that's sad and refrained, yet elegent in its own shy manner.
A Shadow of Eclipse is a brilliant record, really. Don't let its simple appearance deceive you--it's a very complex record. Though the songs are divided into three different sections, the album really flows nicely from track to track; "Seeds and Stones" is the epic here that you've wanted Rao to make. In a way, I think this is Rao's Daydream Nation; containing everything you've come to expect from a Orange Cake Mix record, yet leaving you with a feeling that the future's gonna be greater than this. Personally, I think it's Rao's strongest, most cohesive sounding, and most daring release to date. Rao has worked very hard on his music, and it's rather obvious by listening to this, his newest album, that he's quietly making the music that matters. Though 2001 was an unusually quiet year for Rao, we can only wait and hear what goodness he will produce next.