’64 – ’95
XL RecordingsThe second full-length from British electronica act Lemon Jelly starts off with the withered voice of an old man played over chirping birds and some low strings. “Ah, let me see,” he begins. “That was in ninety-, eh, um, nineteen, no I beg your pardon, ninety...” fades out and it hits, the album’s first real song.
Its title is “’88 aka Come Down On Me,” and it begins an album in which each song title is prefaced by a year, which liner notes reveal to be the date of the samples used in the song. It’s a fine device, and it allows the album some excellent moments, but like the first track’s narrator, unsure of where to place it date-wise, the album’s songs seem uncertain of purpose, adorned, yes, with some beautiful melodies, but not adding up to anything substantial.
The years from ’64 to ’95 on this album appear as a mishmash of easily recognizable sounds, heavy synth in ’88, soulful “oohs” and “aahs” from “’76 aka The Slow Train,” but only in spots seem to precisely nail the musical feel of an era.
“’88 aka Come Down On Me,” the album’s best track and almost a stand-out anthem, perhaps does the best job of this, perfectly capturing the Reagan years’ excess, pride, and belief in the future through a constantly moving synth line with periodic booms from lower registers.
“’79 aka The Shouty Track” bops around in punk textures, with menacing chords and occasional screams, and is marginally enjoyable for itself, but does little to rekindle the spirit of punk that it so ostensibly reaches for.
“’75 aka Stay With You” is another of the album’s best numbers, with a lilting melody built upon a warm and soothing melody of voices. Listening to the track suddenly makes the listener see in Technicolor and imagine some particularly sappy European comedy, like the best music of similarly-inclined U.K. band St. Etienne. Voice enters only very late in the mix, and slowly the lines “I wanna stay with you / for the rest of my life” meander in such a manner as to somehow make them not seem trite.
‘64-‘95 follows up on Lemon Jelly’s singles collection lemonjelly.ky, and their first album, Lost Horizons, both of which share this album’s aesthetic of pleasant (if boring) psychedelic electronica, borrowing from a diverse array of samples, and ironically recreating these into new combinations and sounds.
These two releases share in the faults of ‘64-‘95: the music is good, but never great, mostly due to a dearth of true anthems. Lemon Jelly is very good at producing excellent background music, but their albums cause the listener to long for tighter songs underneath it.
In the end, ‘64-‘95 suffers mostly due to its concept—something this ambitious needs to be pulled off in such a way as will better characterize the eras so openly and audaciously tapped for each song. Additionally, after the concept fails, the album wants for a totally blow-away single, which a band as low-key as Lemon Jelly seem unwilling to put forward.
—Staff writer Christopher A. Kukstis can be reached at email@example.com.