Uphill Racer
No Need to Laugh
2006
B-



uphill Racer, aka Oliver Lichtl, is the sole figure at the boards on this debut, where breathy, angsty rock battles with expressive instrumentation in a spate of indie electronica quirks reminiscent of Badly Drawn Boy and Tunng. Lichtl’s fluid and, at times, virtuosic use of language is often lost in the digitized gusts of wind that threaten to topple the album’s inventive production, his voice reminiscent of Beck’s most maudlin turns on Sea Change. But more often than not, the tracks on No Need to Laugh leave their mark, arriving at their effectiveness with varying amounts of bravado.

Opener “The Fat Grin of the Enemy” is the most instantly gratifying track, making the wound-down pace of the next ten songs hard to tolerate on first listen. Scanning briskly through these, none has the energy, resilience, and memorable composition of “Enemy,” with its glittering keyboard arpeggios, delicate guitar accompaniment, and aerated vocal effects. But for all the enjoyment it brings, this single-worthy cut turns out to be less surprising than the majority of the other songs, each of which blossom at their own unhurried pace. Hidden in simple introductions that belie their evolution, most of the tracks are delightful, radio-free inventions employing similar instrumentation—acoustic guitars, keyboards, synths, strings, two- or three-part vocal harmonies, and whirring, space-making sound effects, but they do so in compositions that are melodically and rhythmically less predictable than the album’s first statement.

“Break the Bone Start the Show” is an example of Lichtl’s almost diffident implementation of his skill set—his talent is obvious, but his modesty is more so. The beauty in this track lies in the attention given to each instrument, which get their share of airtime, but never overpower the vocals or each other. The backgrounded synth that appears halfway through is the loveliest moment on the album, but instead of indulging the instrument in a climactic fanfare, Lichtl reins in the sound, gives the guitar its moment of glory, and brings back the chorus—“All of this has finally wrecked your life,” sung as if by two vocalists, and even more pared down than it was the first time around. There’s a bit of Coldplay piano plodding when the climax finally comes, but there is still the gentle leniency that Lichtl brings to every track, something Coldplay abandoned circa 2001.

The string arrangement on “Burns First Dies First” is a bit too predictable, continuing on the early Elbow soft rock legacy that a few of the other tracks hint at, but the melody, again hinged on an array of vocal parts all sung by Lichtl, has a subtle confidence echoed in the vaguely familiar—but still worth the trouble—lyrics, “Morning is bright like a burning house / Undressing before my eyes,” or the song’s crux, “It’s not you who’s moving / It’s the world.”

There are a couple of tracks of such caliber, and while endearing in their own way, they’re outdone by the sheer elegance of “No Need to Laugh,” the final hidden track, or the raw sexiness of “The Rain-Pouress,” with a thumping, creeping bassline, whispering guitar strums, and the low-octave delivery of the melody, which hardly goes anywhere on the scale, but is all the more redeemable for its lack of adventurousness. At the arrival of “One Face Down,” it becomes apparent that Lichtl is as faithful to real instruments as the Sigur Ros-like effects he pokes and prods them with, but his interest is not in making those instruments indiscernible. While the album could certainly use some variety in tempo, it is otherwise so dignified as to be forgivable. “One Face Down,” an album climax of sorts, has at its core a flowing piano cadenza that forms the delicate backbone to the whole piece, and it’s at such pretty, fleeting moments that Lichtl makes an entire 51 minutes of music worthwhile.



Reviewed by: Liz Colville
Reviewed on: 2006-09-07
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