CD Review: The Armoires’ “Incidental Lightshow”

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THE ARMOIRES – Incidental Lightshow

“I want to be more than a demographic,” the Armoires sing on “Responsible,” one of the key tracks on their affecting debut release, Incidental Lightshow. The dozen tracks here – sometimes haunting, sometimes joyous, always well-crafted and memorable – prove that the band (fronted by vocalist/guitarist/principal songwriter Rex Broome and vocalist/keyboardist Christina Bulbenko) certainly transcends any labels that folks may try to pin on them.

Although they’ve become key players in the Los Angeles-area pop scene – they host a monthly live power pop showcase titled Big Stir – the Armoires’ sonic approach is multi-faceted and difficult to pigeonhole. There are echoes of early REM (on the aforementioned “Responsible”), the Byrds (the guitar intro to the lovely “Fort Ashby” is pure “My Back Pages”-like jangle heaven), garage punk (on the slammin’ “Norma Corona, What Have You Done?” which features a cool little fuzz guitar break) and grand, sweeping, slightly psychedelic moments (such as the breezily hypnotic “Caterwaul”).

Broome and Bulbenko’s vocal harmonies are one of the band’s trademarks, informing most every song on Incidental Lightshow with either a slight edge or dreamy lushness. Also setting the band apart is Larysa Bulbenko’s gorgeous viola, which is not only a relatively unique instrument for a rock band, but also helps provide a lovely counterpoint to the traditional guitar/bass/drums instrumentation. (It also adds a lilting psych feel to many of the tunes, sounding at times not unlike a backwards guitar.) Christina Bulbenko’s keyboards also color many of the tunes; her intro to the disc-closing “Double Blades,” for example, is quite pretty indeed.

The album’s centerpiece is the sweetly dizzying, emotionally charged “Playing With the Lights,” which is dedicated to the memory of Christine Bulbenko’s teenage son Ian, who tragically passed away during the recording of Incidental Lightshow. (He plays drums on a handful of tunes here, and engineered a portion of the record.) Lyrics such as “Late night conversation/always just one more/never thought I’d miss the nights/you kept me up ’til four” and “Are you laughing in the stars/and playing with the lights?” help set the mood perfectly, as does Larysa Bulbenko’s sobbing viola in the heavenly, extended instrumental section. A wonderfully fitting tribute.

The lyrics on Incidental Lightshow – many of which are poetically abstract – are another treat, covering wildly disparate topics such as Claritin, Halloween on a dirt road in 1983, marine organisms, and rodents being relieved of their skin. If you’re in the market for some moody yet strangely uplifting sounds from a band that proffers something wholly unique – because let’s be honest, how many other bands sing about Claritin and rodents with male/female harmonies accompanied by a viola? – check out the Armoires. They’re much more than a demographic. Grade: A-

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