Doleful Lions | 7
Most Likely To: bewilder fans familiar with their previous records.
Although it may carry a matter-of-fact title, the seventh full-length release by Illinois’ Doleful Lions is a courageous, self-assured move in a direction not so much as hinted at by their previous outings. On 7, the brothers Scott (Jonathan, who wrote the bulk of the tracks, and Robert Lee, who produced the effort) take bold strides away from the lo-fi leaning sounds that have served them so well on past albums toward snazzier, synthesizer-led airspace. It is a style so dramatically different from the rest of their body of work that it may as well have been recorded by an entirely different band; the fact that it works more often than not is a testament to the Scotts’ talent as songwriters.
Perhaps the most compelling argument on behalf of this radical shift can be found on “Here Come the Star Nations,” a song exuding 8-bit electro-pop strains like so many pixelated rays of sunlight. It is truly unlike anything Doleful Lions have ever put to tape–or hard drive, as the sound implies–marrying their knack for understated hooks with pulsating, arpeggiated synth lines taken directly from the Nintendo sound bank. At its 4/4 beating heart, this is a sexed up pop song, the most memorable of the bunch.
Despite that song’s many charms, “Magic Without Tears” may be more indicative of the overall modus operandi on 7. Jonathan Scott’s vocals are let loose with the air of half-sung casualness over a thick bed of drum machines and synthesizer chords, but the most prominent motif is the guitar line that anchors the many choruses, a riff which bears the strong imprint of New Order’s Bernard Sumner.
As with many of the other tracks here, “Magic Without Tears” is a long song, finishing up just seconds under the five minute mark. However, none of the material here feels overblown. “Winfield Walker,” clocking in at eight and a half minutes, is representative of the lengthy tracks here in that it tends to make the listener lost in its slow burn. These songs are never boring; instead, they are immersive, submerging the listener for stretches of unconscious listening. They feel like coming up for air in a swimming pool–the sudden burst of awareness kicks in and you wonder where you were for the past few minutes. This collection of songs create a lovely fugue. It’s best to just surrender yourself to a piece like “We Are Nine” and let its tide take you where it may.
To be sure, 7 is not a perfect record. There are a couple of moments where the band’s past peeks in (as on the spacious “Holy Hill”) as if to ask why it’s been forsaken and there are a couple of tracks where things don’t quite come together as well as they should (see “White Lotus Day”). However, these don’t detract from the strength of the record as a whole or the impressiveness of the stark contrast between this and Doleful Lions’ other albums. It is an elegant statement–a gutsy, well-executed move from a band who could have been content to build on the success of their preceding records.
Listen to “Magic Without Tears” from Doleful Lions below: