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Neil Halstead - Oh! Mighty Engine

2008-10-08 14:28
So if you wish Art Garfunkel had made it big instead of Paul, or you worship Jose Gonzalez, stop reading now. Go out and buy this album and fall for it all, hooked by a few unforgettable lines. You'll sink happily into the hazy, lazy, shoe-gazing melodies, the simple arrangements and probably the doom ching, doom ching, and the ka-chung ka-chunk strumming, and the doo doo doo choruses.

Stonerish, yes; brain dead, no. Neil's all reflective interpretation, in the opening track, is a sweetly sentimental portrait of a novelist's characters taking over the story and running away with it. It's as much about fascination with the girl as it is with the insanity of being an artist. And there's "No Mercy For the Muse" a tongue in cheek tune to a girl who lies around imagining herself the subject of tortured love songs. Or it could she be his own muse? It's hard to tell, but the stories are yours for the changing. And then there's the chick he calls "Little Twig". Yes, he's got a theme going here. This sweet guy appears to have a lot of female friends... not so sure about the benefits.

Every now and again the lyrics don't seem to quite marry with the melodies, or he has to force the words into the melodies through inversions, or a rhyme is just too well-rhymed. But this awkwardness goes with his accent, with the close-recorded almost-live sound. The imperfections are his fly in the amber - and maybe also what saves him from being too sweet. His "I'm no genius" attitude is exactly what gives Oh! Mighty Engine its simple, flaccid beauty.

- Jean Barker

Neil Halstead has an unfashionable beard. His album cover is made of cardboard and the song titles are written by hand, in brown ink. Get the picture?

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