By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Doves' Lost Souls offers more substance, even while fixating on a more distant nova. For the first seven tracks, twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams and bassist Jimi Goodwin drown distorted sighs with a gently lapping groove-based variant on the guitar-pedal-pumping shimmer of bygone Brit shoegazer bands Ride and Slowdive. Then on "Catch the Sun," Goodwin's cry suddenly reaches the surface, reverb melts away, and the band rocks out with an urgency that lives up to the song's central metaphor of fleeting spiritual illumination. It's painful, startlingly perfect, fucking gorgeous. And the album continues in that clear, emotionally naked vein until bonus tracks loop Lost Souls back into abstraction.
The Hour of Bewilderbeast doesn't boast anything so fully realized, and that's part of Badly Drawn Boy's humble charm. Instead it putters here and there across 18 ditties and doodles gracefully arranged, but played with two left feet and recorded to match. As the cello and French horn in the opening cut, "The Shining," announce, this is European chamber music realized as indie rock. While the members of Coldplay and Doves submerge their individual identities beneath the leveling anonymity of ensemble performance, Gough suggests a prematurely whimsical loner reading his musical diary entries aloud. His lyrics aren't particularly confessional, but his fragile low-fi delivery is. This English Elliott Smith's got a plainspeak voice that compels with repeated listenings, and the subtle tunes are likewise sneaky, enlivened by all sorts of quirky bits, like the pitch-tweaking slide guitar of "Everybody's Stalking" and the homemade classical gas of "Stone on the Water." His lost-love song cycle isn't a body record: Unlike Parachutes and Lost Souls, Bewilderbeast loses its power as it's played louder. It makes you feel like you're trapped in Gough's cramped apartment, sandwiched between the instruments and piles of dirty laundry left by the latest in a series of ex-girlfriends who vanished without warning or explanation. It's got that musty smell, that sense of familiar mystery.
Ultimately, the most striking thing about these records is their denial. They spring from an indie scene now collectively embarrassed about Brit-pop, a movement that generated more stupid rivalries, stupid Union Jacks, and stupid rock star behavior than smart records. Coldplay and Doves suggest U2 or Echo and the Bunnymen without leaders, while Gough's messy Badly Drawn Boy shtick rebels against today's sleek, factory-designed idols. Unwilling to give up guitars but fed up with the blank bravado that's gone with them, these unassuming craftsmen have yet to fill the hole left by their consciously avoiding charisma. There's beauty, bliss, and soul-baring, but no buzz. It's as if England's lost the knack for its greatest exporthype. And that's not a good thing.