Making Aeroplanes Out of Our Bodies
by Ashburne Glen is an album best reviewed in summer. Although
its cover art reminds me of gothic British winters, the music
evokes sunny California days playing in the park barefoot, flying
kites, and wearing beads… or, perhaps even the soundtrack to
Love Story. Ashburne Glen are often compared to
Belle and Sebastian, but to me, the music is even more purely
retro: I am reminded directly of America in the 60s, especially
love songs a la The Byrds and CSN.
Making Aeroplanes Out of Our Bodies is primarily
the brainchild of Texas musician Jason Hensel and includes a
collection of other local artists. The songs explore esoteric
themes of love with simple guitar, keyboard, and organ. Most
of the album is slow and quiet, especially the first half, which
includes tracks that at times become a bit repetitive. The lyrics
on these early tracks are often vague and leave the listener
feeling that they only know half of a conversation between two
lovers. Unlike their 60s predecessors, Ashburne Glen do not
delve deeply into social issues or philosophy, but mostly stick
to simple themes of romantic love.
The second half of the album picks up speed and sound, featuring
songs like Letdown, which highlights stronger guitar
rifts and a more driving tempo, and Executioner’s Road,
a saloon-piano inspired ditty that speaks of Old West justice.
These later songs make evident another retro-aspect of the album,
however: recorded on a simple four-track, many of the more sophisticated
compositions sound muddy and uneven.
The vocals suffer most from the recording, taking a backseat
at times to the piano and heavier guitar. This situation is
partially due to the fact that the singing is much more subdued
and whispery than similar bands like Belle and Sebastian whose
vocals have a stronger solo presence and a decidely British
dialect. Though Making Aeroplanes Out of Our Bodies
generally features solo singing, most tracks could easily have
been harmonized, which may have strengthened its musical impact.
Perhaps the greatest strength and weakness of Making
Aeroplanes Out of Our Bodies is its nostalgic West Coast
feel, including all the grit of analog vinyl recordings and
the simplicity of soft lyrics and keyboard accompaniment. The
cd evidences the band’s early stages of development, including
strong musicianship and solid arrangements, but it is a bit
too directly derivative of folk and in need of a unique twist
or more powerful presence. The band recently completed the recording
of their second album, and I look forward to a more complex
approach and sophisticated sound.