The Silent League, a sprawling group led bysometime-Mercury Rev collaborator Justin Russo, have beenworryingly quiet of late. The unexplained hiatus since the release oftheir critically lauded debut, The Orchestra, Sadly, Has Refused in2005, had led to rumours of a split, and sightings of some of itsnumber appearing with alt-country staples like Calexico andBeirut only added to the mystery of where this most beguilingof chamber-pop groups had shuffled off to.
This first album, one of that year’s unexpected gems, arrived onthese shores with little fanfare and precious little in-concert time.This journalist was lucky to have seen a markedly slimmed down versionof the band play to a handful of people at London’s Barfly, and it wasobvious then that, even without their stringed backing, these were apop group of rare majesty. While a whole country was goingbatshit-crazy for the Arcade Fire‘s astonishing orchestralbombast, here was a band delicately playing to many of the same rulesto a just as jaw-dropping level.
Luckily, it seems that instead of disappearing in puff of gorgeouswafting smoke, they spent their break carefully honing their sound ina mansion amid the mountains of upstate New York. The result, Of Starsand Other Somebodies is an astonishingly polished record that bothechoes the great American artists of the 1970’s and puts a whole newslant on the ‘orchestral pop’ movement that appears to be currentlymaking a mini revival with bands like The Kissaway Trail andThe Cinematic Orchestra emptying everything but the kitchensink into their recording process.
Of Stars… seems a natural progression from their debut. They donot try to reinvent themselves much – the same lush, multi-texturedsound is all-prevading – but this time around they’ve bolstered itwith more confident, boisterous melodies that should see them take thestep up from being cult favourites to commercial successes.
Album centrepiece Let it Roll is a plaintive, soaring number thatrecalls Neil Young and George Harrison‘s Laurel Canyonperiod – heartfelt, searingly personal and utterly gorgeous. Themoment the horns and backing vocals kick in will melt even thefrostiest heart, and the lyrics “You’re too old for rock’n’roll andtoo young to give up,” are as jaded as the music is hopeful – atimeless showstopper worthy of Brian Wilson at his finest.
Lead single Victim of Aeroplanes is a superb exercise in infectiouspop – starting out in much the same vein as The Arcade Fire’s Keep theCar Running, before suddenly segueing into a Flaming Lips-esquejoyous tub-thumper, engaging, catchy and stunningly ebullient. Kingsand Queens is suitably majestical – Russo using his experience asMercury Rev Keyboardist to good effect – the result is like Deserter’sSongs classic Goddess on a Hiway if Win Butler had recorded it, astunning mish-mash of elegant piano chords and throat-catchingeuphoria indicative of a record that consistently surprises anddelights.
Of Stars… may not be to everyone’s tastes – anybody suffering an allergicreaction to the whimsical high-pitched voice of Mercury Rev’s leadsinger Jonathan Donahue may want to look away now – Russo’s vocals areeerily similar to his occasional bandmate’s. This should not really bea barrier to enjoying the record – his are much more ‘All Is Dream’than the histrionics Donahue had succumbed to by last album The SecretMigration – and it would be a shame if any prospective buyers were putoff by this association. This is a joy of a record, and one thatshould be savoured by as many people as possible.