Released through: Handpicked Entertainment/Madpeeps Productions
Format: CD
Year of release: 2003

Pop music gets a bad rap, but sometimes deservedly so. In a 2003 back issue of Entertainment Weekly, hit parade poster child Britney Spears is quoted as saying, “Anybody can write some boring artistic song. Pop music is the hardest sh*t to write.” If you’re constantly pressured to have a hit song even before it hits the airwaves, then I suppose she has a valid point. But here’s the real problem: her quote suggests that the artistic is not only bland, but it can’t be accessible, that it can’t mirror the pop aesthetic while still retaining its integrity and keeping your interest. Fact is there are artists who can walk the line between the catchy and the complex. Stereolab and Cornelius immediately come to mind. For the moment, let’s focus our attention on a band from Michigan that’s looking to turn pop music completely upside down.

Full’s press sheet describes them as “Avant. Pop. Chamber. Rock.” The first part of that equation (avant-pop) describes what they’re out to achieve quite well. “Dimstar” (the title track) introduces us to a spectrum of sound: vibes, percussion, cello, and a horn section, with the angelic and powerful vocal harmonies of Ms. Wings taking center stage. What makes this album so interesting is the tension that is built between vocals and instrumentation, often resulting in using dissonance and discord to the band’s advantage. Several of the songs become mood swing tunes in the process, displaying a range of emotion. At the close of “Been Had,” as Ms. Wings sings “just let me go,” a harmonic wall crumbles behind her to reveal the sonic equivalent of betrayal and despair, her vocals riding just above the rubble. The band is airtight with the discipline of the finest jazz ensemble and will erupt into freeform freak outs at any given moment. Check the conclusion of “Trip Up” or the whole of “Tiptoes” as they bounce between electronic squelches and horn-led comedowns. One of the most extreme and exciting moments on this album is “Break,” which sounds as if the band poured water on the mixing board and committed its breakdown to tape as the horns and strings join in. Ms. Wings sends her voice straight up to the sky, somehow never drowning in the cacophony behind her. (Serious props go out to whoever handled the mixdown for this album.)

There is another aspect to Full’s sound that could be further explored as their popularity increases: the realm of the remix. One listen to the closing track (“Redux”) confirms suspicions about how their works would translate into the electronic dance music realm. The title track is reinterpreted as a beat-heavy stepper with drum and bass tendencies, peppered with slivers of the brass section. It’s safe to say that the electronic experimental community of music makers and remixers would have a field day with their work. Dimstar will knock you flat – nothing else around sounds quite like this album. In a year full of over-hyped releases, consider Full the little band that could...and does...beyond your wildest expectations.

{chloe knuckles}

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