At first listen I didn’t know quite what to think of this album, but the upside was that I knew I at least didn’t hate it. Like any good work, Sleight of Hand gets better with each listen. Without being an overt mish-mash of disparate genres and styles, it succeeds where many albums fail: it maintains a sonic coherency despite each track's distinctiveness. Lead singer and guitarist John Crossingham writes that this was a “studio album” that allowed the band time to give the tracks “exactly what they needed,” a formula that ultimately birthed a steady and restrained collection.
Yet, it was only after the third listen to Raising the Fawn’s latest album that I struck on what it's so great: John Crossingham’s voice. It’s like he’s channeling Neil Young and Layne Staley from Alice in Chains- like butt rock for the thinking man. Well hell, just butt rock. Not that the style is hesher/ hair band at all, just Crossingham’s singing. And I for one, ashamedly, love it, in the same way that I still get a kick out of Silverchair’s adolescent croonings, Mother Love Bone, and all manner of pre and post-grunge posturing. Despite the moody vocals, the rest of the music still manages to come off as folky, poppy even, making much use of the drum machine and a sometimes-perky falsetto.
But in the end you can’t escape Crossingham’s voice. His perfect inflection, moody, gothic harmonizing and cryptic lyrics made me want to get out my old Buffy DVD’s and put on my black trench-coat- in a good way. And although Crossingham calls Sleight of Hand the band’s “pop album”, the descending guitar lines and minor harmonies add just enough darkness to the bubblegum beats to tip the balance away from radio play. On the other hand, Silverchair and the like were always really just pop wrapped in flannel, long hair, angst and body odor. And this band, in tandem with their producer Ian Blurton, to whom they give credit for the album’s sound, are wise enough to add a lot of variety in their musical choices.
As previously mentioned, I didn’t care for every song. The falsetto in combination with the drum machine on the fourth track (“Focusfocusfocus”) became tedious almost immediately. I also feel that although I like a good falsetto from a male singer (Al Green anyone?), its overuse can be a cop-out and is something not always afforded to female vocalists. Also- it’s cheesy.
This album comes highly recommended- it’s the perfect soundtrack to any teenage séance and/or mid-life crisis. It’s a solid choice while washing a stray cat in your bathtub or taking mushrooms at your in-laws. In short, it’s appropriate in virtually any situation. It’s versatile and universally applicable; this album is like high-end margarine. I love it.