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Doves | Some Cities | review | alternative | Lollipop


Some Cities (Capitol)
By Tim Den

A new Doves album automatically means that my life is 1000 times better, no exceptions. They've been one of my all-time favorite bands since their debut, Lost Souls, chronicled the happiest days of my so-far life - and although Some Cities isn't quite as euphorically all-conquering, it's still a slice of heaven sent from Manchester. Bless you, bleak northern English winters.

First single "Black and White Town" sounds like the soundtrack to the band's younger days as Sub Sub, joyriding through the night and raving 'til dawn at The Hacienda. It's got the perfect "weekend night out" momentum, energy, and drum beat, but it certainly had to fight hard to win that claim from "Sky Starts Falling." And don't count "Almost Forgot Myself" out, either: Nice Motown on-beat, gorgeous arpeggios, and, of course, trademark Doves vocal lines that're pure ecstasy.

Elsewhere, the "slow" numbers prove once again that no one can melt a heart like these fine Brits. "Snowden" is cinematic in scope, swooping down from giant mountains to deliver a strings-slathered epic; "The Storm" and "Shadows of Salford" are simmering ghosts, whispering regrets and longing in hushed tones; and "Someday Soon" makes your spine tingle with its end-of-movie-resolution sentimentality. What can I say: These songs - and this band - deserve the most ridiculous descriptions and praises because they transcend just about everything that's out there right now. Music like this is timeless, unfathomably powerful, and every songwriter's dream of the perfect balance (artsy yet catchy, intelligent yet accessible).

However, if there's one complaint about Some Cities that I must make, it would be the band's choice to scale back the production values and go for a "live" sounding record. This approach would've yielded fabulous results if the album had used the engineers from, say, Shiner's The Egg. It would've sounded HUGELY live and immensely powerful. However, Ben Hillier and the band members have done nothing but strip Doves of their signature sonic tapestry in exchange for flat tones. The drums especially sound lifeless, as if they were recorded close mic-ed (all impact, no natural reverb). No matter how hard drummer/vocalist Andy Williams hits - and he doesn't hit very hard in the first place - the beats sound like a pencil tapping on paper. Which, of course, is completely the opposite of the band's previous recordings, where the beats were all-encompassing and enormous. The rest of the instrumentation received similar treatment as well: There's hardly any delay, echo, or reverb on anything. Okay, I understand that the band wanted to try something different, but even a live band - no fancy production values - creates natural reverb and echo when they practice in a rehearsal space! To completely rid a recording of any and all natural tendencies renders it very unnatural-sounding. And, unfortunately, Some Cities comes off as sonically unnatural a lot. The band didn't scale back on the overdubbing - there are still tons of layers within each song, but all the layers are now somewhat muted. It's as if the old Doves are playing underneath a soundproof ocean: Their godsend songs and Orpheusian melodies doing their best to break the surface and deliver their essence, but we can only hear traces of their attempts from above.

But even those traces are enough assurance that Some Cities is swollen with riches just waiting to be explored and – as I mentioned earlier – re-explored live. In a concert hall, these songs are bound to come alive, free of their oppressed studio counterparts. And then, my friends, the clouds shall part and light shall descend upon us...

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