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Amandine - Solace in Sore Hands

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Artist: Amandine

Album: Solace in Sore Hands

Label: FatCat

Review date: Jun. 18, 2007

Amandine's third-full length is a work of subtle, understated Americana, full of mournful banjo picking, plaintive fiddle and weathered tenor laments. Cleverly constructed and carefully arranged, the album flirts with the sort of background melancholy common to coffee shops and adult alternative radio stations. Yet on a couple of songs, Solace in Sore Hands becomes substantially more than that, louder, more desperate and passionate. This is a band just learning the meaning of crescendo – and the better they get at it, the more significant they will become.

Consider the opening cut, "Faintest of Sparks,” its restrained heartache adorned by banjo, bells and occasional surges of accordion. There's nothing electrified, nothing loud, very little dynamic variation. It is all quite lovely, in the vein of Great Lakes Swimmers, Shearwater and Sufjan Stevens, but forgettable. Faint sparks, indeed. There is nothing here to catch fire.

Still, in the very next cut, this Swedish band transforms itself, achieving an unexpected level of dramatic tension. "Chores of the Heart" swells majestically in three-four, riding intoxicant swirls of organ and slow, walloping drum beats. Singer Olof Gidlöf has switched from banjo to electric guitar here, adding to the clash and clamor of the song. Even the lyrics feel grander, less contained, as Gidlöf keens "27 years of desire / takes less than a second to burn."

For the rest of the album, Amandine vacillates between precise, display-case Americana and wilder stuff. In the best songs – "Standing in Line,” "Our Nameless Will" and "Secrets" – they let loose. In the lesser ones, they are more cautious. Yet in at least one case, the band seems to strike a balance between restraint and passion, locating the ache that makes understatement powerful. This is "Better Soil," a cut where the music seems buoyant and breezy, all 1970s piano rolls and sudden swells of violin. Against this Laurel Canyon backdrop, Gidlöf sings wearily about a girl trapped by a single night of love, dancing in a white wedding gown and headed for trouble. It's sad and lovely and quiet … and pretty good. One crescendo'd breakdown might make it great.

By Jennifer Kelly

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