Thursday, October 6, 2011

Album Review: Lydia - Paint It Golden

Lydia has always seemed like a bit of a tragedy.  On their second album, Illuminate, the band achieved a masterpiece of austere and otherworldly melodies, but this early success made the rest of Lydia’s career somewhat elegiac.   After their youthful triumph, rumors of band conflict arose, a farewell tour was booked, and Assailants, a bitter, satisfactory, yet below-potential EP, was released.  It certainly seemed like Lydia was over.  Suddenly Antelman and Craig Taylor announced that the name Lydia was too big to leave behind and now, despite the band’s death, we have Paint it Golden.  Remarkably, despite the upheaval, Golden is a natural progression for the band.  In many ways, Assailants felt like a simultaneous grasp at the greatness and uniqueness of Illuminate while trying to move to a less fairytale sound, making it somewhat forgettable and confused.  Paint it Golden, on the other hand, is a full embrace of the more earth-bound sound (they even break out the acoustic guitars on “Eat Your Heart Out”), which allows Antelman to write the top notch melodies we’re used to while maintaining the delicacy of the band’s sound.  Though the album never attempts to be the next Illuminate, forging in a new direction, Paint It Golden still lacks something of the qualities that made the former so unforgettable. 

One of the duo’s biggest assets is Antelman’s vocals, which are always more than just a medium to sing lyrics.  Unique enough to make any song he sings feel distinctively Lydia, the vocals are almost sufficient on their own to make any long-time Lydia fan nostalgic.  For any new listeners, Antelman’s effortless vocals should be the first draw as he deftly navigates the art of singing emotionally without getting lost in it.  These vocals, coupled with echoing production and expressive piano work form the spine of Lydia’s style.

 “Hailey” is a weak, thinly instrumented opener that has little to offer by way of melody or interest, but the band gets back on track with “Dragging Your Feet In The Mud.”  The song features bright piano plunking that moves into an echoey, sky-bound chorus, highlighting Lydia’s ability to write a song that combines the most basic elements with the sublime.  “Get It Right” is a flawless example of Lydia’s Midas-like abilities.  Much of the prominent part of the song consists of a single note, yet the flawless opening piano riff and the instrumentation of the song throughout make it exceptional nonetheless. 

Paint It Golden also provides occasion for a change in tone for Lydia.  It’s probable that no song by Lydia has ever been called a “toe tapper” before, but “Seasons” is a bright, smile-inspiring song—complete, of course, with Lydia’s characteristic piano cascades and harmonized “oohs,” but cheery nonetheless.  “Eat your Heart Out” has a similarly upbeat vibe, impressive for a songwriter whose past albums have had at least a few toes in the emo realm and whose last album was a bitter collection of occasionally violent lyrics. 

Unfortunately, though Lydia shows several moments of brilliance and the album is nothing if not consistent, many of the songs are sound similar to one another or previous pieces of the Lydia repertoire and I wonder what kind of staying power many of the songs on Paint It Golden will have.  Few of the songs stand out over the rest and sometimes it is hard to recall the melody of the song even as the last chord fades.  Fans of Lydia will no doubt find much here to delight in, but the main question is how long that will last.

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