This Boston quartet, led by singer-songwriter and orchestrator Ben Talmi, has been seeded with the orchestral rock DNA of ELO, and grown under the golden hooks and harmonies of 1960s sunshine pop. But these sonic nods to earlier times aren’t mere nostalgia, as they’re updated with modern-pop melodies that suggest Blind Pilot, Keane and others, and complex arrangements that drink from the same production fountain as Sufjan Stevens and the Explorer’s Club. The lead off, “No One’s Waiting,” is a masterpiece whose brooding introduction feints in the same direction as Eric Carmen’s “Sunrise” before kicking into gear with swirling strings and a soaring vocal that hangs the title on a perfect melodic hook. Talmi’s layered vocals interlace with violins and cellos as the four-piece rocks the song to a thrilling conclusion.
It’s one thing to have a talented and sympathetic orchestrator decorate your songs, but quite another to have the orchestration composed in the songwriter’s head. Think Brian Wilson rather than George Martin. Talmi’s songs are built from words, rhymes, melodies, meters and vocals, but it’s the way they interplay with the rock instruments, and the rock instruments interplay with the strings and brass that gives these songs both their delicacy and power. Art Decade is a top notch modern-rock band on their own, but when supplemented by the orchestral elements, they gain a thrilling extra dimension. The songs draw impressions with poetic imagery and vocal tone, and highlight emotional moments with the arrangements.
Talmi’s songwriting encompasses the winsome side of the three B’s (Beatles, Big Star and Badfinger), the darkness of Paul Simon and Nick Drake, but most often the melancholy of Brian Wilson. “So I Thought” combines a bouncy McCartney-styled chorus with a lyric that leans to the uncomfortable self-discovery of Pet Sounds, and in “Idle Talks,” Talmi declares “I’m stuck here swimming with words that drown me out from the truth.” There are moments of light, including the emotional support of “No One’s Waiting” and attraction of “Walking Together,” but more often inability turns to indecision and ambivalence as Talmi vacillates between reducing and increasing distance. If you ever wondered what Elliot Smith would sound like as produced by Jeff Lynne, Art Decade’s second full-length album will give you a hint. [©2014 Hyperbolium]