Friday, October 22, 2010

Record review: The 1900s - 'Return of the Century'

Posted by Frank

For a band whose core style so perfectly conjures the 1960s, it's remarkable how fresh The 1900s sound on their sophomore full-length, Return of the Century. While the Chicago sextet's debut LP, 2007's Cold & Kind, was a solid collection of beautiful folk-pop melodies and top-notch performances, it came across as unquestionably retro, stirring visions of love beads and flower children through and through. That approach certainly worked well for the group, but when they hinted at a more adventurous outing during the recording of the album's follow-up, it was an intriguing idea - so long as they wouldn't abandon the elements that made them so likable in the first place. Thankfully, The 1900s have succeeded brilliantly at striking a balance on Return of the Century, seamlessly merging their '60s sensibilities with crisp modern pop production and stylistic experiments to create their strongest release yet.

According to the band, "Return of the Century tells the story about an underground world where people's minds are held in thrall in the name of spiritual advancement," loosely based on the story of the woman who took off to the desert for "strange and troubling adventures." That reads like pretty heavy stuff, and the record is indeed lyrically thought provoking - descriptive yet cryptic in its ideas. When vocalist Jeanine O'Toole sings lines such as "I'm not so sorry that I took you along, you only saw me naked once" and "There's a big landmine under this little house" in the reflective, narrative "Tucson," for example," you get the groundwork of a compelling story, but are ultimately left to decide exactly what you want to make out of it. There's a definite tale threaded through these 11 tracks, but in the end it's as much about your imagination as The 1900s' - and that's part of what makes it so appealing.

Also noteworthy are the album's pristine production and range of moods. Everything pops, and the warm, rich vocals of co-lead singers Jeanine O'Toole, Edward Anderson and Caroline Donovan are wisely placed front and center atop gorgeous orchestration. On "Lay A Ghost," O'Toole's distinctive phrasing works alongside a lilting beat and sing-songy verses to create a sense of playfulness, even if the lyrics don't necessarily follow suit. ""Bmore" and "Lions Fur" are breezy and downright lush. The atmosphere of "Overreactin'" is hypnotic and sultry (again, with plenty of help from O'Toole's standout vocals), while "Amulet" and "Sanzimat" have a yearning, uplifting vibe, bookending the album with Anderson sounding more than convincing at the helm. Some of the remaining tracks don't leave as quick of an impression, but unravel with repeated listens. Altogether, these songs add up to a collection of material without any notable weak spots. Return of the Century finds The 1900s fully hitting their stride and proves why the band are often regarded as some of the finest music-makers this city has to offer.

The album is out November 2nd on Parasol Records and available for pre-order now on both CD and vinyl. Check out the first single, "Babies," below. The 1900s have a hometown show coming up on Tuesday, October 26 at Fireside Bowl with Verma and Shapers. Click here for more information.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry but they totally stole/borrowed the title 'Return of the century' from a well known Dutch band 'De Wisch' any search engine will tell you that. Come on 'Parsol records' do your homework!