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The Petals - Butterfly Mountain

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Artist: The Petals

Album: Butterfly Mountain

Label: Camera Obscura

Review date: Jul. 7, 2003

Bouyed by Hummability

That early recordings by The Petals were produced by John Frankovic of Plasticland makes sense, as this album also bears the hallmarks of the paisley pop sound. This, their first in nine years, boasts paradoxically refreshing vintage psych, similar in some ways to Dipsomaniacs, but moreso to, say, Emmit Rhodes or the good Monkees songs (yes, there were plenty, thank you). That is, it is music out of its time, but it's quite welcome here and now.

"Brown Cow," for example, is pure ’60s psychedelic pop, all singsong vocal harmonies, sitar-like jangling guitars, and vaguely surreal lyrics. Cary Wolf's slightly nasal vocals are spot-on, backed by Laurie Kern's harmony. The vocals on "Seed Separator" feel a bit more strained, particularly Kern's, but the arrangement and melody are still completely compelling. This song boasts some terrific violin during the middle break as well.

"Pallid Mask" is one of my favorites here, a bit darker, with the lead vocal by Kern. This is perhaps the track most overtly reminiscent of the paisley pop sound, though the great flamenco guitar by Mike Friedl certainly helps give it a perfectly concrete identity of its own. Likewise, the countrified guitar (or banjo) of "A Place in the Shade," with its singalong chorus, is uniquely memorable, as is the outer-space directionality of the album closer, "Neutron Star."

The only song that somehow sticks out a bit as being more consciously "current" is "Sarsaparilla." Its jangly guitar and fast pace feels a bit different from its surrounding songs, though not drastically so. It may simply be that the song doesn't have quite the same out-of-time essence, which is particularly noticeable when "Rax, Sandra and Jasper" follows with flute and pure ’60s pop melody.

It's tricky to take on pop of this sort without falling victim to either overbearing tweeness or self-conscious lack of gravity, but The Petals have what it takes. From the dramatic sweep of "Autumn Latch" to the crisp guitar and lilting vocals of "Living Room," the songs just work, plain and simple. They're occasionally silly, sometimes slow and more weighty, but most importantly you'll find yourself humming along during play and after.

By Mason Jones

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