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Felix - Oh Holy Molar

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Artist: Felix

Album: Oh Holy Molar

Label: Kranky

Review date: Jul. 17, 2012

Maybe Domino were on to something when they gave the Young Marble Giants’ discography the deluxe reissue treatment. Did that serve to prefigure certain prevailing musical trends, or did it act as a kind of trigger? Said band made haunting use of a stark instrumentation and a minimal sound; their influence can be heard in bands as sonically disparate as Gem Club and The xx. Oh Holy Molar, the second album from the British group Felix, falls firmly into this tradition as well: the music made by Lucinda Chua, Chris Summerlin and Neil Turpin achieves a fullness while retaining a sense of absence. Listening to this album, there’s a sense that you’re witnessing a group challenging themselves, achieving a robust sound while restricting the devices used to create that sound.

It doesn’t hurt that Chua has a terrific voice and a solid range around which these songs can coalesce. Her delivery of the refrain “Electro / How retro,” from “Oh Thee 73,” looks dismissive on paper, but her multi-tracked vocals suggest regret, or a sadness laced with disappointment. Sometimes the mood takes a pastoral turn, from the Vince Guaraldi-esque piano on the title track to the steady, moving progression heard on “Blessing Part II.” Vocals and music reach a fine balance on the cello-laced “Pretty Girls.” These are concise songs, few exceeding three minutes in length

For as much as this album features Felix inhabiting the boundaries of their sound, it’s at the album’s conclusion when they hit the deepest, and it’s through their summoning of the familiar. In “Little Biscuit,” Chua drops in a centuries-old line familiar to anyone who’s heard carolers around Christmastime: “Sing, choirs of angels.” It’s such a stark contrast, this majestic and yet impersonal line repurposed on a decidedly intimate scale. And it works, changing the impact of the words into something harrowing. Oh Holy Molar is a subtle album, but its impact is hard to shake.

By Tobias Carroll

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