Review Summary: & yet & yet & yet
D’ya have those bands whose goodness is worth more to you than most acts’ greatness, whose patchwork discographies never cease to endear themselves for reasons both pleasing and perplexing, whom you love for all their flaws, and whose homemade 50-track-plus FavSong playlists are absolutely constantly
in and out of your rotation? If not… well, it’s bizarre to see you pop up in this feral pocket of music nerddom for one thing, but- uh
(!) if not
, Spangle Call Lilli Line (do not parse) are a prime candidate for that vacancy! A Tokyo-based three-piece whose appeal and versatility boast uncommon breadth, their music is comforting and infallibly wholesome, and their career (now in decade #3) has taken indie, dream pop, post-rock, downtempo, slowcore and all the other ones in just about every direction they were ever supposed to go, and then some. The fruits of this range from sublime (PURPLE
), to steady (Forest at the Head of a River
) to shaky cocktails of one-part genius, four-parts frustration (ISOLATION
, Dreams Never End
); any inconsistency from release to release is outweighted by a remarkably constant assurance that just about anything under their name will have at least something
worth the price tag stowed away within it.
was a slight blip in this regard, positing the first SCLL record with precisely zero points of remarkability (albeit with no instances of outright catshit), but their latest album Ampersand
dishes out timely course correction, offering a tightly produced set of tracks that land as their strongest in several years. Stylistically, it continues in the vein of the sleek, lounge-ready dream pop that has guided SCLL’s sound since 2015’s Ghost is Dead
; its songwriting is a little more cursive and its arrangements busier, but it brings to mind the same cleansing breezes for the twilight hours. The band navigate these currents with the benefit of obvious experience and refinement: Kana Otsubo still has one of the most graceful voices in indie and her performance here is as exceptional as ever, while her multi-instrumentalist bandmates Ken Fujieda and Kiyoaki Sasahara go above and beyond when it comes to accenting her with a range of spiralling synth leads, richly textured guitars, and soothing e-piano chords. Opener “ira” is impeccably tasteful with its wash of svelte chords and vocal lines that would be the envy of any R&B studio, while “chroma” somehow extracts a calming impulse from more abrasive percussion tones. The record’s middle third flags somewhat flags when it comes to distinctive hooks, but there is little doubt throughout the record that we are in the hands of a veteran act still full of fresh ways to conjure an atmosphere they have long since mastered.
The record’s scope, however, is more economical than either necessity or wisdom dictate: its 32-minute runtime is a portent of almost
no-nonsense (we shall ignore “am”’s grating enactment of alarm-jingle–as–interlude), but the songwriting sells itself needlessly short. These tracks live and die on the strength of their chord progressions and production choices, both of which are conveniently strong, but are rarely afforded the slightest space to do more than lay down their take on the palette and scram. The two occasions where the record does allow itself to bloom - the respective codas of “suddenly” and “reillin” - are instant highlights, full of the bittersweet spaciousness that underpins so much of this band’s best work. It’s odd to hear a band twelve albums into their discography display such aversion towards overstaying their welcome - for all the delight to be had in this latest installment of bingeworthy comfort music, Ampersand
makes its potential to have been more than another foot-in-the-door record recurrently clear.