Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The top 10 albums of 2007: No. 1

Mono in VCF
Mono in VCF

Darkly beautiful, the music of Mono in VCF melds baroque pop with shoegazer and psychedelic ventures, always with a cosmopolitan appreciation for style and nuance.

On their debut album, the Tacoma, Wash.-based band explore a swirl of love, loss, melancholy and death. The clipped guitar, wet bass plucks and undulations of Moog synthesizer set the tone in opener "Escape City Scrapers" as singer Kim Miller imagines liberating herself from rainclouds and concrete. The mood is cool but sensuous and unhurried, like a lucid dream unfolding.

This mood permeates the next two tracks, "Spider Rotation" and "Masha." In the plaintive "Masha," Miller sings, "I thought I felt a feeling / but my daydream hit the ceiling."

The words sprang from the mind of Hunter Lea, the band's principal songwriter. Lea leaves the vocals to Miller, except for on "In Los Angeles," a Nancy-and-Lee-style ballad in which he duets with her. The other male voice, which appears on two songs, belongs to Terry Jacks, who co-founded the '70s band the Poppy Family. Mono in VCF pay tribute to him by covering his song "There's No Blood in Bone," the album's midpoint.

The sequencing on Mono in VCF enhances the song cycle, moving from synths to acoustic guitar and back, taking into account tempo and texture. "In Los Angeles" scuffs out a groove. "There's No Blood in Bone" whips up a froth. And the majesty of "Chanteuse" calms it down before the dire kismet of "Death of a Spark" sets in.

Standout "The Only One" is built to captivate, with its bass tones and a music-box-style piano ascending and descending like Escher's famous stairway image.

"If you wanna rip my heart out, go ahead
Go, get on, get it over with
If the sight of blood should make you sick
I'll do my best to bleed under my skin"

The way Miller's seductive vocals glide through torture suggests a gallows humor, and the lyrics reinforce the track's circularity. In the first chorus, it's "I know you're not the only one for me"; but in the second chorus, that changes to "You know you're not the only one for me." This opens a range of possibilities.

Perhaps it's a lover confronted with infidelity, or a different kind of betrayal. Perhaps the second chorus is her response. Perhaps the first chorus is a discovery or a personal revelation and the second chorus signifies a transference of knowledge. Perhaps she told him; perhaps he came to the conclusion on his own. Perhaps the betrayal is double-sided.

The final chorus is even more provocative:

I know I'm not the only one
I know you're not the only one
You know you're not the only one
for me

It's like a movie with a scene lost on the cutting-room floor.

And all the better for it.

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