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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1541

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Musée Mécanique: Hold This Ghost
by George Graham

(Frog Stand Records 2 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/19/2008)

For most people, the music that was popular whey they came of age holds a special lifelong appeal. A lot of people in the commercial media and at advertising agencies make a great deal of money targeting marketing to people using music that evokes their high school and college years. For an open-minded music fan with a sense of history, now is an interesting time, with many young musicians adopting and adapting musical ingredients that precede them by a generation or so. So instead of putting up with the incessant repetition of old music that the commercial media serves up, it's possible vicariously to enjoy the sensibilities of say, the late 1960s through the eyes of creative young musicians.

This week, we have an intriguing and quite charming album by a group named Musée Mécanique, called Hold This Ghost. If there is a special place in your heart for the quirky side of the Beatles, or for that matter very early Pink Floyd or a host of mostly British bands who made melodic, laid-back music that was full of off-beat instrumentation, then Musée Mécanique will bring a smile.

The Portland, Oregon-based quintet named themselves after a actual museum of coin-operated mechanical music boxes and novelties located in San Francisco. And that is a good description of the sounds evoked by their instrumentation, with such items as a musical saw, vibes, glockenspeil, harmonium, accordion, and a collection of vintage electric keyboards. The latter notably includes a Mellotron, the early tape-operated keyboard of string sounds. Most of the rest of the instrumentation is acoustic, with acoustic guitar being at the center. The band's vocals are wispy, and their lyrics recall the poetic style of the psychedelic era. Their panoply of instrumentation invites elaborate arrangements, which they can do without making it pretentious.

Musée Mécanique was founded in 2006 by two boyhood friends, Micah Rabwin and Sean Olgivie, who started their collection of instruments, including, what they call "garage sale" synthesizers. Since then, they recruited drummer Matt Berger, bassist Jeff Boyd, and Brian Perez on keyboards and pedal steel guitar. For their debut full-length CD they brought in producer/engineer Tucker Martine who has also worked with the Decembrists and Sufjan Stevens, other artists who embody a similar kind of vaguely retro, amorphously theatrical, generally tuneful outlook.

Hold This Ghost begins with a track called Like Home, a minor-key waltz drenched in mellotron sounds that evoke a kind of cross between early Moody Blues and perhaps some odd melancholy circus music. <<>>

Musée Mécanique take up the subject of early aviation on the song called The Propellors, a wonderful little musical pastiche that incorporates the band's everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach to arranging... <<>> which also includes their musical saw. <<>>

The Things That I Know reminds me at times of early Pink Floyd, with the mellow acoustic guitar line, to which they add their clever collection of instruments. <<>>

A song called Fits and Starts is given another twist, with Brian Perez' steel guitar imparting to the song a bit of a twang. <<>>

With a more folky sound is a track called Under Glass which can be vaguely reminiscent of Nick Drake at times. But of course, Musée Mécanique throws in their distinctive collection of influences from hither and yon. <<>>

Sleeping in Our Clothes is a standout, with its lyrics longing for spring and sonic textures including a harmonium and one of the few instances of electric guitar on the CD. <<>>

The album ends with perhaps its most elaborate sonic pastiche, a song called Our Changing Skins. It sweeps from vintage keyboards sounds to a near-symphonic middle section. <<>>

Hold This Ghost, the new album by the Portland, Oregon, based band Musée Mécanique is a very enjoyable recording that conjures the sunny but experimental music of the psychedelic era. Their virtual museum of vintage instruments, and their willingness to put stuff together in ways that run from very clever to seemingly random, makes for a CD that is both quite mellow and full of little surprises. The vocals may be a little weak by contemporary standards, but this vocal approach was also very much a part of the music of 40 years ago.

Our grade for sonic quality is about a "B Plus." The recording is very heavily compressed, with even the quieter moments hitting the maximum digital level, but the rainbow of instrumental textures partially compensates for that. In keeping with the retro aura of the album, it's also being made available on vinyl.

One can often tell where some of Musée Mécanique's influences come from, but they combine them in their own distinctive way with a charming amalgam that seems part experimentation, part tribute, and with a not-insignificant amount of creativity.

(c) Copyright 2008 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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