January 24, 2006

The Twin Atlas "Sun Township"/"Pioneers Toasted: Rare & Unreleased 2000-2004"

It’s always nice to receive a Twin Atlas record. One of Philadelphia’s most enduring—and endearing—“psych-rock” bands, the group has released seven wonderful records over the past six years. Their sound is quite basic: mellow, slightly stoned country-rock, tempered with a hazy psychedelic glaze, resulting in head music that’s quite pretty and easily accessible. They’ve never really updated their sound, but what they do, they do quite well, so it’s hard to fault them for that.

Such is the case with Sun Township, the band’s seventh album. Sean Byrne, the head Atlas, has matured quite nicely as a songwriter; the ten songs found here are gorgeously written and produced, and it’s hard not to feel the warmth of the sun within the band’s melodies. At time, the record’s vibe is more country than rock, and that’s quite okay, too. Guitars are gently picked, harmonies are quietly sung, and the accentuations provided by keyboard, pedal steel, and percussion only intensify the mellowness. “Narcotic” would be the apt adjective to describe their songs, but that’s too heavy of an adjective.

Even though the songs on Sun Township follow such a very basic formula, it’s a rewarding formula, so why change it? Byrne’s chiming guitars and vocals, especially on songs like “Roll On” and “Lost Way Falling,” recall The Byrds, in spirit, if not in sound. Their lazy style of “Wrap the Days” and “Evergreen” recalls the final recordings of Opal and the first recordings of Mazzy Star. Were Byrne to add a female vocalist, making a distinction between him and Dave Roback’s bands might be quite difficult. Sun Township also finds a comfortable niche between your Wilco and Low records; they sound like neither, but their lush, mellow vibe certainly gives them the right to be there.

Sun Township is, simply put, a wonderful record by a great band. It’s pretty and it’s mellow and it’s lovely and it’s a record that will relax you after a hard day—or it will make you feel good when you need some quiet time.

Also available is Pioneers Toasted: Rare & Unreleased 2000-2004, a fourteen-song Cd-Rom collection of most of the bands compilation appearances, as well as a handful of outtakes. This odds-and-sods collection is a bit rougher and slightly less polished than Sun Township, but it does a great job of highlighting the more lo-fi psych-rock history of the band, and it’s a bit more heady and trippy than Sun Township.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thetwinatlas.com

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