Masters of the Hemisphere – Protest a Dark Anniversary (Kindercore)

There’s bits of this record that send the same chills down my spine that R.E.M. did back in the 80s, or that Belle and Sebastian and the Danielson Family did when I first heard them. The sound isn’t too unlike those groups either — sweet, clean guitars and equally sweet (high-pitched male) vocals.

“Local Government”‘s groovy bassline and catchy vocal melody brighten my mood everytime I hear them. The almost-creepy harmonies in “Anything, Anything” eventually get ingrained in your memory along with the guitar and keyboard lines.

Many of the songs start with a quiet guitar line or strum so that the listener has no idea if the song will become upbeat like “200 Heads” or down as “All Your Winning Numbers.” So often, the interplay between the instruments — like the horns, keys and guitars of “Take Time” — sounds perfectly formed, like it was just found that way by the band. Too many groups pile instruments onto a chord progression and just muddy the sound (see: Oasis).

The Masters of the Hemisphere’s lyrics are often obtuse and maudlin not unlike some of John Linnel’s songs with They Might Be Giants — “200 Heads” and “Rules of Life” spring to mind. But just as frequently, they’re strangely uplifting. The bottom line is that the band writes fantastic songs absorbing the best of indie rock and pop from the past 40 years — one listen has me recalling The Beach Boys, Pavement, R.E.M., and my hometown’s dearly departed Crop Circle Hoax (“Give Me Something Clearly”). Though I tend to skip some tracks, each is done as carefully as the next. It’s a great record that has been in frequent rotation for several months.