The Polyphonic Spree, from Dallas, Texas, have made a very unusual record which could be 2002's most surprising success.
When a new band forms they often think of a gimmick to make them stand out from the crowd. They throw in four guitarists for example (Godspeed You Black Emperor) or get everyone to wear sharp suits (The Hives) or red and white clothes (The White Stripes). The Polyphonic Spree take this idea to the extreme. There are 25 band members: an 11 piece choir and a 14 piece orchestra; and they all wear white robes. They look like messengers from some strange religious cult but don't let that put you off; their message is one of joy and celebration.
The album's opener, "Section 1 (Have A Day/Celebratory)", is typically uplifting and is only slightly ruined by the vocals being worryingly similar to Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight".
The band specialise in unusual vocal arrangements and harmonies throughout the album. Songs frequently feature just one line repeated over and over. "Section 4 (La La)" with its 'la la' chorus doesn't require much knowledge or experience of singing for you to join in. Recent single "Section 8 (Soldier Girl)" is the most accessible pop tune on the record mainly due its cool chorus.
The songs that don't work as well, ("Section 5" and "Section 10's" 35 minutes of irritating buzzing noises), are the ones that don't feature many of the 25 musicians. Here whole sections of the orchestra are left at home and only an acoustic guitar and the odd drum come out to play. These instruments don't produce enough interest or excitement for the listener. It is when the band are in full effect that they are at their best ("Sections 2, 3, 8 and 9"). Here you can hear oboe solos, harps vying for attention with the horn section and then, above the slightly chaotic din, male and female voices combine to make a wonderful and divine sound.
Many of the ideas on The Beginning Stages have been done before, and usually more successfully, by the likes of Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. However, if you like these bands you'll probably find something on this album to bring you joy and to lift your soul.
Like This? Try These:
Beck - Sea Change
The Coral - The Coral
Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights --Dan Tallis
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window
THE POLYPHONIC SPREE The Beginning Stages Of (2002 UK 10-track CD featuring the singles Soldier Girl and Hanging Around picture sleeve)