erasing clouds

All Tiny Creatures, Harbors

review by dave heaton

In 2009 All Tiny Creatures released a dazzling EP of instrumental music that worked at experimental and atmospheric angles, while possessing a feeling of movement that kept it always captivating. It’s no surprise that their debut full-length Harbors picks up in that same direction, just as skillfully, but it is remarkable how filled it is with pop pleasures: melodies, harmonies and hooks, even. There are vocals on a few tracks, from a variety of guests (people from Bon Iver, the Caribbean, 12 Rods, Megafaun, and other bands). Most of the vocals are not just something you follow in any straight-ahead verse-chorus-verse way. They’re used as part of the tapestry, part of the mood.

The opening song “Holography” is one of the more buoyant, and in that way hopeful, songs of the year so far. The album takes that tone and follows it. This music does drift and meander, in a focused way, but more often it thrusts upward and forward.

Philip Glass and Steve Reich have some big pop hooks themselves; in a way it’s those moments I hear All Tiny Creatures following from, and crystallizing them into powerful little explosions. That and dabbling in Krautrock grooves, and following up on the lead set up by instrumental ‘indie’ bands of the last decade or so (or not really instrumental ones like the Sea and Cake, whose music sometimes had a similar thrust and similar electronic playing-around), while casting their own mystical spell over everything.

As tightly wound as the music is, it also has a mythical, larger-than-life quality. The gorgeous artwork (especially gorgeous in the vinyl, 2-LP version) offers some mysterious, colorful iconography to match the music, with tokens of sort for each of the album’s four sides. The art touches on marine-life and boating themes to match song titles like “Valves or Hatches”, “Triangle Frog” and “Reservoirs”. Eventually, Harbors resembles a nautical-themed epic, directed by a younger, hipper Jacques Cousteau (or Steve Zissou, as you prefer). They end with, of course, the “Plankton March”, and it’s a lovely sight.

{”An Iris” mp3}


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