REVIEW: Reindeer Section: Son of Evil Reindeer
The Reindeer Section: Son of Evil Reindeer [Pias, 2002]
Three words? Drip drop hooray!
The Reindeer Section’s debut album, Y’All Get Scared Now, Y’Hear? was one of the criminally unappreciated albums of last year - a rain-soaked cuddle of a record, folk-pop for the kind and saddened working-class. WIth Son of Evil Reindeer, the Section has gained a satisfying confidence, the willingness to laugh, to look the listener in the eye. It’s by no means a break from what the group has done before, but it’s a richer, more full-bodied album, with flavours that shift and mingle in the ear.
The brainchild of a near-drunken discussion at a Glasgow pub, the Reindeer Section is comprised of 27 members of Scotland's Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub, Idlewind, Arab Strap, Astrid, and more. Most important, however, is the role of Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody. As the group's leader, Lightbody writes, composes and sings most of the disc's tracks, stepping away from the fey pop of Snow Patrol and moving closer to a melancholy acoustic folk that recalls Badly Drawn Boy and even, at times, a brassier Nick Drake. The group's ensemble - replete with virtuosi of guitar, drums, woodwinds, violin and trumpet - flesh out Lightbody's little songs, giving them an instrumental breadth that echoes the Delgados' flute-meets-pop-punk. In order to fully showcase these players, many of Evil Reindeer's tunes fall back on frequent repetition, spinning out joyous, singing-in-the-thunderstorm jams. Despite the contributions of some of Mogwai's crescendo kings, these circular choruses never quite wind tight enough - remaining pleasant and melodious instead of rising into a thrillingly apocalyptic climax. While this is somewhat disappointing, there's something to be said for the smoothness of the music, the way fingerplucked guitar strains stay steady as a warm water wash, the way the violin and Coldplay guitars remain beautiful flourishes, not song centrepieces. When the mournful, muted trumpet begins to murmur under the chorus of "Cold Water", it's a lovely heart-tug, not an incidence of "hey, listen to this!" cheese.
As on Y'all Get Scared Now, Y'Hear?, Son of Evil Reindeer opens with an absolutely delicious, "oh god I love this" demonstration of the band's principal stock and trade. "Grand Parade" has murmuring acoustic guitar and cold raindrop piano, but above this cool instrumentation, a rich, warm violin embroiders a soaring melody, and it's met full on by Lightbody's sprite-footed lyricism. The words throughout the album are simple, fragrant images - so utterly sincere that they obliterate any thoughts of cliche. "And it's all over dear / you squeeze my hand / and I / know it's true," sing male and female voices over the swell of golden brass, a sigh of background vocals. The singsong duet of Lightbody and Jenny Reeve on "Strike Me Down" is upbeat and snappy, with a smattering of nostalgia that is reminiscent of Gordon Downie's solo outing last year. The Reindeer Section's arrangements - mostly blends of vocals, guitars (acoustic and electric), brass and strings - simply sound so good; pleasing, harmonious, vivid.
Perhaps Evil Reindeer's biggest surprise is the cheery, arms-raised rocker of "You Are My Joy". Between layered verses of gentle, lyrical verses, the drums are kicked in to full volume, with synths and guitars left to lift, let loose and blossom. This is a fiercer, louder Reindeer Section, and the catharsis of the song is absolutely palpable - like the indiepop version of Nine Inch Nails' "Perfect Drug", Lightbody sings to the fire, to the stars, of his joy joy joy. Sadly, these heights aren't approached again, and its long shadow falls across "Whodunit", where Aidan Moffatt tries to lift his plodding number into some of the same territory. The choral backdrop just doesn't match the singer's Arab Strap frustration, however, and he strains to follow the ho-hum patter of the drums. While not a bad song, it's a poor choice to close the album, the disc's sole dud.
Throughout the rest of Son of Evil Reindeer, however, it's a lush, dew-filled landscape - sad and sort-of-sad songs which flower amongst mature and muted arrangements. This isn't an album to stand up and body-slam to, but it's one that washes over the listener like warm whispers and kisses, like poetry and an embrace.