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  The Great Eastern  
  The Delgados  
  Chemikal Underground  
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MMMMMMM, BritPop. You know BritPop. You like BritPop. BritPop makes you smile with its catchy hooks, jingly melodies, cute little fuzzy accents and the fact that your life sucks much, much less than Morrissey's. Oh yeah, baby. BritPop is a good thing.

The Delgados are BritPop indie-rockers, which is kind of funny to me for some reason, but what the hell. They own their own label, so that's cool. They make catchy tunes, and that's cool. Yeah, the Delgados are BritPopalicious, and yeah, BritPop is cool, and indie-rock is cool, and so, by all contingent lines of reasoning, the Delgados are pretty darned cool. Me, I'm a-like'n the Delgados.

If you're all into the low-fi, taped in your basement sound, approach this disc with caution levels high. This is not a Steve Albini "produced" album. In fact Dave Fridmann, who you most likely don't know, produced The Great Eastern. He's not as famous as Steve Albini, that's for sure, but he quite possibly deserves to be. Fridmann is the mind that took Mercury Rev, a heretofore undistinguished bunch of guys from the Midwestern United States playing BritPop (see, it's a theme!), and turned out 1998's Deserter's Songs, which was brilliant. The next year he took a bunch of strung out acid popsters, The Flaming Lips, and produced their most cohesive work to date, The Soft Bulletin. (The Soft Bulletin was also quite brilliant, by the way.)

Fridmann seems to be the anti-Albini, to some extent. Whereas Albini is famous for "just letting the band play" and recording it, raw and unaffected, Fridmann brings a certain affectation with him. It's a thin line to walk, and most producers who try to walk that line usually end up putting too much of themselves into the end product, to the point where the band's sound is lost beneath the producer's "concept". (For a good example of this check out Superchunk's last release, Come Pick Me Up.) But Fridmann apparently has enough self-control to keep himself in line. Rather than taking his bands and trying to restructure them into a sound he wants to make, he is an adept at taking the band's natural sound, disparate as it might be, and overlaying his production ideals onto them, creating a better version of what the band was trying to be in the first place. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest secrets and talents a producer could ever have.

Fridmann's "concept", the thing he seems to bring to a band, is, well, loosely, the idea of a concept. What he did with Mercury Rev, and then to a greater and more successful extent with The Flaming Lips, was to take all of their random noodlings, combine them into a stream of semi-related consciousnesses, and lay them out in the intimation of an order. Nothing so overt (or pretentious) as some of the "concept albums" of the late 70's, but just an ever present hint of connectivity between the songs, often accomplished by nothing more than a bit of sampled noise between the individual tracks. Playing on the natural likenesses of songs written by the same people in a short period of time, Fridmann works his albums into a cohesive entity, rather than a mere collection of said songs. It's a skill lost on many producers/bands, especially those working within the indie-rock school of less-is-more aesthetics.

Fridmann does similar things with The Great Eastern. The albums consistency is enabled by the almost non-existent pauses between tracks along with the bait-and-call mixing of the vocal tracks. The Delgados routinely switch between Stuart Henderson's melancholic baritone and Emma Pollock's ethereal tenor, often within individual songs, providing a natural ambience for the girl-vs.-boy-in-love themes. The tracking of the album plays well on this interplay and gives the listener a bridge by which to approach the entire work, not just a particular song.

All told The Great Eastern is well worth the time and energy spent in acquiring it. A lovely little serenade, essentially a well-conceived and executed volley of love songs, The Great Eastern is a reminder of what BritPop is all about, and of why we find the genre so damned appealing. It's hard to imagine a better pop album in today's musical climates. You most certainly wouldn't get something this evolved and complete from any of the major labels, and many of the underground movements would likely discard the songs as fluff. But that's the internal beauty of DIY music, isn't it? When you own your own label you don't have to worry too terribly much about what the A&R guy is going to think. I am much the happier for taking a flier on this album (on a friend's recommendation, having never really listened to the Delgados previously.) It provides hours of sing-a-long drive time, specifically on those mornings when crunchy guitar distortion is the last thing I need. Tinkering pianos and tubular bells, a feminine voice dropped directly from the clouds, and some guy lost and lonely and in love with her. That's about as good as it gets.

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