“Michael Head, former frontman of the Pale Fountains and current co-leader along with his brother John -- who is also a Strand -- of Brit pop outfit Shack, turns in a stellar chamber pop performance with Magical World of the Strands. Head, who is no stranger to either classy, baroque pop or neo-psychedelia, has composed an album of gorgeously illustrated songs that are lushly orchestrated by a standard rock quartet augmented by a flutist (Leslie Roberts) and a string quartet. The result is an album that, while little known, is a classic, a masterpiece of modern chamber pop. Released in 1997, this disc walks the line between the deep, darkly expressionistic chamber work of the Tindersticks to the airy, classically augmented breeze-laden pop of Nick Drake à la Five Leaves Left -- long before the millennium obsession with Drake's work began anew because of a Volkswagen commercial. The disc's two openers, "Queen Matilda" and "Something Like You," are so striking in their seductive, tenderness. The ghost of Drake is everywhere, floating in and hovering with the string section. In the refrain to "Something Like You," one can even hear his voice in Head's phrasing. The difference is in how Head composes a lyric, more economical and more expressive; he gets to the essence of the very image he's trying to write about and leaves the listener to fill in the blanks with the musical arrangements. In many ways this music could have been recorded in the early '70s, but with its economic line and outrageously large harmonic terrains -- between the strings and the guitars -- it could have only been written and recorded when it was. The feeling in this music is timeless; it's a pop music that has never been made by Americans, though more than a few have aspired. What reverberates through it on every track -- from the direct lyrical reverie of "X Hits the Spot," with its jangling guitars and subtle backbeat, to "It's Harvest Time," which calls in the spirit of Dave Cousins and Strawbs with open, ringing 12 strings, and piping, echoplexed flute, to the electric-acoustic guitar tradeoff between Michael and James in "Fontilan," with its melancholic theme and spacious mix that has the strings swelling underneath the guitars -- is musical savvy, compositional classiness, and an aesthetic sensibility that is at once completely, utterly artful, while being completely accessible to anyone with an interest in well-written, -played, -produced, and -sung pop. This record will be selling for hundreds of dollars ten years from now, mark my words.” (From AllMusicGuide).
Download : Michael Head & The Strands - Magical World of the Strands