BY FRED MILLS
Don’t think for one minute that an exquisitely-designed, gatefold-sleeved, crystal-clear-vinyl release can possibly influence a critic when rendering an opinion. Bah! Only a rank amateur would let such tactile or visual (and, as some vinyl devotees might suggest, olfactory) details sway him; a professional focuses exclusively on the sounds ‘n’ sonics. And the S&S quotient here is high indeed, from the lush dream pop that characterizes this Cincinnati combo’s project to the baroque flourishes that mark a number of songs to the see-sawing between intimacy and expansiveness. Think the Decemberists married to the Green Pajamas with a dash of Beatles and a smidgen of Left Banke—a delightful brew of old ‘n’ new.
Plastic Ants is a kind of Cincy supergroup fronted by guitarist/vocalist Robert Cherry, the Afghan Whigs’ John Curley on bass and production (the album was recorded at Curley’s venerable Ultrasuede studio), Wussy’s Joe Klug on drums and keyboardist Guy Vanasse (the band’s secret weapon). Also guesting are Lisa Walker—from Wussy, natch, on vocals—and cellist Amy Gillingham. Together they stitch together a song cycle that, on the surface, seems to be about heartbreak and recovery, but has enough wistfulness and hope that its lyric metaphors and direct narratives (“Your presence feels like forever, that’s why I never want you to leave”) won’t leave the listener pondering extant misery, merely wondering who the “you” or “her” might be. There’s a subtly gothic literary vibe at play here.
And from opening track “Hang On to the Good That You Got,” all neoclassical rippling keys, tumbling bass and vibrato guitar, through the upbeat, anthemic pop of “Sympathetic Strings,” to the elegantly mournful, cello-draped closer “Say Goodbye to Massachusetts,” the tunes reinforce that vibe—songs as cinema, in other words, allowing you to emerge from a virtual dreamscape of the band’s own making at album’s end. That walking-out-of-the-theater afterglow you get is real.
Meanwhile, though… did I mention that this is an exquisitely-designed, gatefold-sleeved, crystal-clear-vinyl artifact, suitable for framing (or at least boasting about to your fellow collectors)? No? What about the fact that if you spring for the wax, you’ll also be privy to the expected digital download and that the band adds a special bonus track that you can only snag with the vinyl? (Oh snap, CD fans. Losers.) Allow me to enthuse…
DOWNLOAD: “Say Goodbye to Massachusetts,” “Sympathetic Strings,” “Across the Falls”