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Falling Up

[Holy Page; 2013]

By ; May 9, 2013 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

The latest record from Los Angeles producer/musician Tom Filardo seems steeped in the sea foam and afternoon warmth of the California sunshine pop of the ’60s. Equal parts psychedelic dreaming and Brian Wilson-esque harmonies, he successfully taps into the same vein of ramshackle sonic inclusivity as the on-again off-again Denver, CO and Athens, GA centered Elephant 6 Collective. Presenting sugary pop mixed with oddly tuned guitars and a host of gauzy synths and armed with a heady DIY aesthetic, the tracks which comprise Falling Up exhibit the same kind of scattered sonic fingerprints as their AM radio predecessors. Drawing on scores of artists who themselves were drawn to the sounds and artistic visions of bands like The Beach Boys, Millennium, and Sagitarrius, the songs here, while not pushing Filardo into any dramatically new musical territory, are still able to make a considerable impression — thanks in part to his impressively detailed sense of pop construction.

From the sugary barbershop harmonies on opening track “Yesterday’s Cup Pt. 1” to the Ween-meets-Beach Boys pop disparity of “The Shed Months,” Filardo shows us what he can do with an excess of influences and the time required to put them all together into a relatively cohesive whole. But therein lies the main problem with Falling Up — and it’s quite a fascinating one to hear. There are times when Filardo’s musical vision outstrips his grasp, and the songs sometimes suffer from feeling a bit too scattered and noticeably rough around the edges. We’re bounced around from sound to sound like a ball in a pinball machine, never settling too long on one rhythm or tone before quickly moving on to the next. There are times when this musical ADD works in his favor, such as on the previously mentioned “The Shed Months” and on “Opening Windows In May,” where he works wonders with the juxtaposition between a ’60s Laurel Canyon folk aesthetic and the psych pop tendencies of bands like The Left Banke or Strawberry Alarm Clock. The title track even manages to draw in some Byrds-ian country twang before seguing off onto some questionable electric lounge music avenues.

But when he corrals all these seemingly disparate influences and lines up everything just right, it can be astonishing, as on “I’m Over Breaking Hearts,” where he pairs softy swirling keyboard lines with decidedly deep-seated rumbles of synths and minimalist beats. Besides being one of the best songs on Falling Up, it gives proof that this kind of spatial genre hopping can be done — and done well. Touching on aspects of twee (the meticulously crafted “Karen’s Concerned”) and ridiculously catchy synth-pop (“I Don’t Getcha’ Kid”), Filardo seems to be channeling the spirits of more recent artists like Stephin Merritt and Stuart Murdoch with the same wild abandon that he displays in reworking his ’60s and ’70s influences. But then you have tracks like ” Spare Me Fantasy” and “I’m A Child,” which sound like various genres crashing headlong into each other with little thought given to execution or development. It is hard to fault him for trying to push so many different sounds together — and hoping that it might work out — as it’s fairly obvious that he has a deep love and respect for the source material. But, as is often the case with good intentions, there must be more underneath to hold everything up, and on some of the tracks here, that just isn’t the case.

That being said, the attention to detail and generous amounts of naive psych pop haze allow Filardo a bit more leeway than he might ordinarily have gotten. And his sense of pop construction like so many of his idols doesn’t generally steer him wrong — though there are exceptions. It is difficult to critique a musician for their being enamored with so many different shades of music. But Falling Up could have benefited from some judicial editing and a narrowed musical field. I’m not saying that he should excise most of his pop experimentation but like his psych pop (and E6) peers in bands like The Apples In Stereo, The Gerbils, and of Montreal, there has to be a strong hand manning the rudder or the densely packed layers of sound that is worked so tirelessly on can come across as formless and bereft of emotional impact. Thankfully though, while brushing up against these issues from time to time, Falling Up seems to always have some surprise in store for the listener — some apparent throwaway bit that manages to bring things into focus, even when they should have blurred out of existence a long time ago. And for an album so indebted to its influences, that’s quite a feat.


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