The Beginning Stages Of... (Good Records ’02) Rating: B+
I'd heard good things about this debut album from various sources, and after buying and then listening to The Beginning Stages Of... I'm suitably impressed myself. Taking their cue from The Beatles, Beach Boys, and most obviously recent Flaming Lips albums, the best songs on The Beginning Stages Of... are every bit the match for The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. The liner notes say that "this is a choral symphonic pop band", and among its 29 band members, all of who dress similarly in white robes, is a 13-member choir, though Tim DeLaughter (ex-Tripping Daisy, best known for the annoying novelty number "I Got a Girl," though I'd advise you not to hold that against him as this is a far different proposition) is the lead singer/bandleader. "Have A Day/Celebratory" begins the album by immediately illustrating the band's strengths, as gentle piano, mournful violin, fluttering flute, and horn punctuations provide the song's framework before the choir chimes in. Yet for all the layers of instrumentation this album primarily contains simple songs, several of which are oddly beautiful, uplifting, and affecting. For example, the second song, "It's The Sun," is an absolute masterpiece on which the voices are everywhere and it's all but impossible not to sing (or shout) along, while "Days Like This Keep Me Warm" is very Lips-like in its gorgeously gentle way, led by some sublime flute and horn interplay. It would be hard for anybody to keep up such a strong pace, and the quality does drop considerably for the next few under-developed songs. The highly percussive "La La" is a more rocking and experimental track with a bit of an edge to it despite its "la la la la la la la la" lyrics (hence the song title, duh), while "Middle Of The Day" is a plodding, dirge-like attempt, and "Hanging Around The Day Part 1" is merely a mildly enjoyable instrumental lead into "Part 2," the song on which the album again upswings. When the choir kicks in again on another singable chorus they're most welcome, and the quality continues on "Soldier Girl." It's pretty hard to make a chorus like "I found my soldier girl, she's so far away, she makes my head spin around" catchy, but that's just what the Polyphonic Spree does, and "Light & Day/Reach For The Sun" (later to find prominence in an iPod commercial) superbly ends this most uplifting of albums on the most uplifting of notes. Granted, lines like "just follow the day and reach for the sun" makes me think of acid addled hippies, but the kaleidoscope of colorful sounds offered up compensates for any lyrical shortcomings. Oh, I almost forgot, the last song, "A Long Day," is a complete waste of 36 minutes that I consider an easily ignorable bonus track. After all, I'd much rather focus on the previous 32 minutes, during which the Polyphonic Spree create a charming alternate universe that (for the most part) provides plenty of feel good fun.