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The Lickets: Dolls In Color
International Corporation

Four years on from Here (On Earth), their last release under The Lickets name, Mitch Greer (guitar, cello, vocals) and Rachel Smith (synths, flute, vocals) return with another excellent installment, with this time vocalist AnnaMarie Hoos and violinist Hanako Hjersman in tow. Issued on the group's International Corporation imprint, the concise, forty-seven-minute collection shows that the San Francisco-based outfit's mesmerizing music has grown more refined over the past decade without losing any of its sparkle.

No more than ten seconds are needed for “Pigeon” to re-acquaint the listener with The Lickets' particular brand of wonderment. After a pulsating synthesizer appears, a radiant swirl of magical sound blossoms to flood the room with prototypical Lickets material and situate the listener within some heretofore undiscovered psychedelic universe. The seduction continues when “Sacred Knives of Vengeance” catalyzes acoustic string flutterings and harpsichord-styled keyboard chimes into a transfixing meditation, and when the lilting reverie “Patterned Ground” serves up a near-perfect blend of the pastoral and psychedelic, this one augmented by hushed vocals.

A few episodes arise (see the warbling “Florist”) that suggest some degree of commonality between The Lickets and the currently fashionable wave of synthesizer music practitioners, but the group typically distances itself from them by augmenting the synth elements with its trademark sound design. Over the course of seven minutes, the eerie “Human Lanterns” conjures an ethereal zone whose aged surface textures make the piece feel like a sci-fi soundtrack created in the 1920s for a Jules Verne film treatment. The density level is toned down during “The Magic Yard,” whose relatively uncluttered arrangement allows Greer's cello to resound clearly within the electro-acoustic mist, and the luscious outro “Island of Trees and Sorrow,” as entrancing a Lickets production as you're ever likely to hear.

If there's anything that differentiates Dolls In Color from the group's previous releases, it might have to with coherence: while it's still drenched in haze, the new material seems more clear-headed or perhaps more circumspectly organized; the difference is small, however, so much so that it could go unnoticed except by the most discerning listener. Certainly none of the magical qualities that distinguished The Lickets' preceding releases have gone missing on Dolls In Color. As it has in the past, the group's material once again acts on the listener like some instant portal to another realm, a musical narcotic that somehow manages to effortlessly overturn the usual physical limitations of space and time.

October 2015