A recent name change for LD Beghtol’s band to the rather unwieldy Flare Acoustic Arts League should not disguise the fact that Cut, the project’s third album, is another thoughtful and melodic work of art.
Beghtol divides his time between Flare and the more experimental outfits LD & The New Criticism and Moth Wranglers, in addition to frequent guest appearances on Magnetic Fields albums and work as a designer and writer. MF’s head honcho Stephin Merritt returns the favour here as a guest vocalist, alongside appearances by members of Low, Sparklehorse, Arcade Fire, Belle & Sebastian, and Antony And The Johnsons.
This is art-house pop in excelsis. Who else would open an album with a track called Reminiscences Of A Minnesota State Training School Alumnus, Class Of 1905 in this day and age? The fact that the track is a charming little piece of chamber pop with some delightful melodic rise and fall is a bonus and sets the listener up nicely for the rest of the album.
This style of music will not be for all ears. Funeral Games and Pr�cis are knotty, wordy tracks that entice the listener while demanding the upmost concentration. To return to The Magnetic Fields connection, there is the same attractive surface simplicity with a lot of tension bubbling underneath.
There is also the same mixture of personal drama and artistic exploration. Hands Of Fire is a case in point. A homage to outsider artist Henry Darger, the track imperceptibly progresses from his strange upbringing to a joyous celebration of his life’s work: ‘Lift us up, spirit us away/Save us from the hands of fire’. The music, a skittery mix of glockenspiel, organ and brass, is very Sufjan Stevens, which of course is no bad thing.
Sometimes the album gets a bit too art house for its own good. Ballad Of Little Brown Bear is the first of several curious interludes that serve little purpose and tend to detract from the flow of the album.
These distractions become more apparent when Beghtol and his cohorts launch into a track like 4F, a chiming piece of orchestral pop that flows out of the speakers like honey, ‘distorted syntax’ and all.
The second half of the album is a curious mix of the sublime and ridiculous. Into the first category come the deliciously odd and homoerotic Emigr� Song, the shimmering Luminary (a hymn of sorts to the ‘dispossessed’), and the straightforward chamber pop of Simeon/A Dream Of Love. Into the latter category pops the marching music of Recessional and the closing A Short Guide To The City, a step into experimental sound that just doesn’t work.
Beghtol is much better when he sticks to what he is good at, and by far the best thing on the album is the seven-minute plus Love Finds Andy Warhol. Featuring vocals from the extended cast list of guest artists (including a wonderful turn from old grumpy chops Merritt right at the end), the track is a beguiling mix of brass, strings, wind instruments and an insistent melody, with a lyric that finds a perfect balance between Beghtol’s artistic tendencies and more prosaic concerns.
For all its ambition, Cut is likely to only find a limited audience among the indie set. Beghtol is yet to find that universal touch that will extend the appeal of his music to a wider audience, although you get the sneaking suspicion that he likes things this way.