Aarktica: Matchless Years

Though Jesus & Mary Chain, Spiritualized, and The Magnetic Fields are cited as brethren to Aarktica, Matchless Years augments its guitar-drenched atmospheres with material that's so tightly-structured and song-based it calls to mind Depeche Mode too (it's not difficult at all to imagine Martin Gore singing the torchy “Matchless”). This fifth collection from Jon DeRosa and company is the first release following his 2007 move from NYC to Southern California, a fact that perhaps partially accounts for the wistful melancholia that underscores the album's eight songs (seven if you subtract the brief “Intro to Arms”).

The superb lead track, “Seventy Jane,” opens with a propulsive guitar- and bass-driven pulse before DeRosa's vocal rides a swooning verse melody and seductive chorus hook (“You're not to blame / Seventy Jane”) over a shoegaze wave of guitar washes. Less anthemic though no less appealing, the lullaby “I Name You Sleep” follows with DeRosa's voice shadowed by Kendall Meade's against a lush bed of strings, horns, and sleigh bells. Here and elsewhere, he delivers his lyrics in a clean and uninflected style that has more in common with a ‘50s crooner like Bobby Darrin than your prototypical 2007 indie vocalist. There are a couple of lesser moments: the instrumental “Summer Tabla Dub” is nicely atmospheric but succeeds more in illustrating how much stronger an impression the vocal songs make (though, admittedly, the funereal, quasi-symphonic outro, “Rooftop Films,” succeeds better), and grungy guitar elements and vocal theatrics regrettably lend “Happiness Boys” a hard rock aura. But the peak moments on the forty-minute Matchless Years clearly offset such modest lapses.

January 2008