Review Summary: Soundtrack to either a late summer picnic or a midnight walk, "Purple" is where Spangle call lilli line made its definitive statement.
Defining what exactly Spangle call lilli line is doing is an enormously difficult taste. The Shimokitazawa trio started off by making more traditional indie rock on releases like “Nanae” and “Spangle call lilli line” before really diving deep into the world of downtempo post-rock that they’ve been on since their junior release “or” forward. The formula that they’ve been using for the majority of their releases prior to “Purple” is a good formula, but there has always been a missing element, something that made their evolution feel a bit uncomplete. “Purple” perfectly remedies that problem, finally giving the band a definitive release.
In layman’s terms, what makes “Purple” so special, so precious, is something very simple: absence. For most groups in the world of rock music, the magic is in the knotting guitar lines and abstract harmonies that lend their songs color and credence. This is certainly true of the two groups that are ostensibly SCLL's contemporaries: school food punishment and Ling Tosite Sigure. But the beauty of “Purple” and SCLL in general is its tendency to strip back the superfluous elements of indie post-rock and focus on simple, yet moving, songcraft. The song ‘unknown’ does this perfectly by directly focusing on lead singer Kana Otsubo’s gorgeous vocals and leaving the arrangement unencumbered by bleeps, bloops or extra guitar sounds. When the drums do pick up and the guitars start to really play, the added complexity brings with it a feeling of quickening, perfectly complementing Otsubo’s lyrics. The tracks that follow really show off just how well the band can construct arrangements with plinky mallets interweaved with elegiac guitar lines and lithe brush drum work. ‘rio’’s mournful bridge and ‘nm’’s jazz-fueled hip-hop help to showcase the band’s knack for impressionist beauty. Yet the real highlight comes with ‘cast a spell on her,’ the album’s most popular single and one of Lilli line’s best. The melody on ‘cast a spell on her’ is vaguely reminiscent of Sade in its slick sensuality, and the longing lyrics amplify this sentiment. The song itself isn’t really all that sad, but there’s a certain sadness that the whole combination of Otsubo's singing and the band's production inspires. This is truly the height of emotive indie rock music.
Many of Spangle call lilli line’s detractors (of which there are exactly 4), will level complaints of the music being homogenous or without variation or experimentation. And that is certainly true to an extent, many of this album’s tracks are cut from the same cloth, but that’s kind of the point. Music like Lilli line’s works its magic through gentle repetition; music phrases that calmly plod along, repeating themselves, quietly insisting that they be heard and internalized. Every slight chord change or electronic embellishment is a rapturous revelation, lending the song new emotional depth. The linear progression showcased in these songs is nothing short of meticulous, and the vocals themselves feel necessary is in a way that is almost indescribable. The male-female harmonies and slight embellishments make every word notable in its own way. All the parts of these songs are deeply tied with the other parts, making for an almost cinematic experience.
And this quality of cinematic grace can make the album unpalatable for some. The songs bleed organically into each other, and it’s hard to listen to just a single time, despite their radio-averse run times (only two songs here are less than four minutes and most run for 5-7 minutes). There are indeed moments where the band ventures off on a musical excursion that borders on tedious. This quality is most evident on the song ‘a portrait,’ where the latter half of the song very well could’ve been the entire thing. Despite this slight tendency to wander, the album is actually remarkably straightforward and wholly worth a listen. Just don’t expecting a shot of adrenaline from it.