auto-inserted 09-17-2014 15:56:46
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In many ways, Detroit's Waxwings are different than the mostly ephemeral power pop bands who have emerged in the past half-dozen years. For starters, they're somewhat literate: their moniker, as well as the title of this, their sophomore album, was derived from the first line of an epic poem that forms the centerpiece of Vladimir Nabokov's multi-layered novel Pale Fire. Their critically acclaimed debut,Low to the Ground, also found the band thumbing through rock's storied back pages for inspiration. It struck a nice balance between the ringing guitars and '60s-style harmonies found in folk-rock's holy trinity -- Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young -- as well as rocking out much like their Bobsled labelmates, Velvet Crush. Their second album, Shadows of the Waxwings, however, achieves admittedly mixed results, at best. It's evident the Waxwings wanted a heavier, darker sound this time out, and even though several tracks are embellished with cello, violin, and horns, most of Shadows fails due to a murky, muddled production and mix, not to mention an uninspired track sequencing. As before, keyboardist/guitarist Dean Fertita -- trivia buffs may want to take note that he used to play alongside MTV's Real World cast member André Comeauin Reigndance -- shares lead vocal duties with guitarist Dominic Romano, but their saccharine-sweet vocals are often indistinguishable from each other. The leadoff track, "Wired That Way," staggers in, burdened with a psycho-dramatic guitar intro. Then, two minutes in, the gauzy pop track sparks to life briefly before falling back into the muck. Ultimately, it ends up going nowhere, and doing so, seems to set the pace for the rest of the album. The distorted vocal effects and chiming Who-inspired guitars elevate "Clouded Over," but "Look Down Darkly" is yet another song that starts off on the straight and narrow, before its extended symphonic coda meanders off into a foggy nothingness. The Flaming Lips might have done something interesting with a track like "Almost All Day," but Romano's thin vocal lead is simply trampled underfoot by an elephantine drum track that thunders in like a lost pachyderm. The fuzz guitar-led "Fractured" and charming "Brilliant Grey" feature hip-shaking tambourine percussion and heavy drums prominently upfront in the mix, but their sweetly interwoven harmonies, once again, get swamped under. "Crystalized"'s distorted vocal, swirling psychedelic guitars, and a militarized snare drum might have been commercially viable radio fodder if it weren't so aimless and empty. "Into Tomorrow" waltzes in, out of nowhere, with a forlorn harmonica and head-bobbing melody, like a refreshing change of pace, but arrives too late in the sequence to have its desired effect. The album ends with "What's Needed Now," a shoegazing pop drone which decays on a somewhat ineffective note. Bobsled honcho Bob Salerno reportedly spent as much as 200,000 dollars to produce the album, though perhaps he could have given it another mix-down before letting Shadows take wing.