Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, September 14, 2008
      ( 9/14/2008 12:39:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"DARKNESS SHELTERS MY ACT" The stateside debut of a two-man Swedish pop group, Pacific!'s Reveries (EMI) works hard to live up to its connotative group name. No less than three songs contain the word "sun" in their title, and if we don't see "beach" anywhere on the track list, at least one of the tracks takes us "poolside." The group's duo, Björn Synneby and Daniel Högberg, may keep hold of the beats and synth lines of contemporary electro-pop, but they also possess a strong love for seventies soft-rock. At their best, they can conjure up Brother Records Era Beach Boys; at their weakest, they recall America or one of those studio faux groups like First Class ("Beach Baby") or Edison Lighthouse.

Fortunately, the killer tracks outnumber the lightweight ones on this set, which differs from its earlier UK release in both song order and inclusion. Top among the selections are the dance club singles, "Number One," which couples all the requisite disco bells-and-whistles with a ringing surf guitar lick, and "Hot Lips," a hook-happy dance track with swell crooning vocals and a harmonic background that proves well-nigh irresistible. Elsewhere, the boys dip into mild Heaven 17-styled social commentary with "Break Up Your Social System" (a neatly edgy guitar break on this 'un) and slip a bit of guitar onto the opener of "Hold Me" that sounds like it could've come from a piece of reel-to-reel tape left over from a grittier alternate take of Three Dog Night's "Shambala."

Also worth noting are two non-fill discoid instrumentals ("Runway to Elsewhere," with its Supertrampy keyboards, and "Villanova Sunset") and a pair of moody slower songs. First of the latter, "Poolside Bungalow," features a sweet duet and elegant keyboard line, while the disc's contemplative finale, "Silent Running," bundles a surprising snippet of synth horns and country-rock guitar pickin' into its sound without slip/sliding into mellow wimp-rock purgatory. A pretty deft move, though it doesn't always work. In the disc's opener, "Disappear," for example, the boys' attempt at creating evocative, ocean-shine pop gets undercut by overly frail high-end vocals. First time I put on the disc, I worried that the whole thing was gonna sound this timorous. But then I heard "Sunset Blvd," with its Smile-inflected keyboard opener, and my antsiness disappeared.

In general, our Swedish pop-meisters do best when they remember that their group name has an exclamation point on its ass . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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