Sometimes wearing your influences on your sleeve can be a dangerous venture. Especially when you’re a band seeking exposure in a market full of knock-offs and imitators. But for Austin’s The Channel, whose four and five part harmonies and western tones blend seamlessly with a delightful flavor of ’60s psychedelic pop in a particularly original way, any reference to their influences should only seem like praise. On Tales From The Two Hill Heart/ Sibylline Machine, the band’s third release in four years, The Channel invoke the harmonic complexity of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, the sunnier pop of Loaded-era Velvet Underground, and even the experimental playfulness of Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles. With two albums worth of material spanning 23 songs, The Channel’s prolific approach to making music, if not their unique combination of different pop sounds in itself, should garner them some much-deserved attention.
Two Hill Heart/Sibylline Machine follows the progression of the band’s first two releases, debut Tones Are Falling and second effort Personalized, refining the edges of their subtle pop assault while exploring different instrumentation and arrangements to arrive finally at what should be considered as two separate pieces of music. Tales From The Two Hill Heart, the outpouring of songwriter Colby Pennington, scatters tales of lost love and musings on mortality across a lonesome desert of dusty acoustic guitars, banjos, and keyboards. Sibylline Machine, penned by Pennington’s band mate and multi-instrumentalist Jamie Reaves, is rife with abstractly melancholic images that invoke the journey and the search more than the destination or the object of desire.
Two Hill Heart opens with the gossamer harmonies of “Up On The Hill,” a minimalist piece with a tinkling xylophone and acoustic guitar that hover beneath densely layered vocals. Akin to The Beatles’ “Believe,” it’s a case of simplicity made transcendent, where the vocals themselves more closely resemble an instrument than individual voices. The aching slide guitar of “The Deserter” finds Pennington pining for his freedom through a poignant military analogy: “Girl you can take my place on that plane and you can wave that Spanish flag/ And I’ll go back to the States dressed in my army rags/ I’m the deserter.”
Reaves’ lyrical abstractions, presented in an often more whimsical manner on Sibylline Machine, offer a pointedly melancholic counterpart to Pennington’s Two Hill Heart. Reave’s voice has an uncanny resemblance to Zach Rogue’s, and musically, more than a similarity or two with Rogue Wave’s debut Out Of The Shadow. Bubbly “The King Of Spain,” beneath its bright exterior and fanciful imagery, is colored by the narrator’s lonely plight: “The windmills and milk thistles swayed together/ As I climbed to the top of the pines/ and waited for you/ I waited forever.”
Tales From The Two Hill Heart/ Sibylline Machine, taken as a complete musical endeavor, opens its rich sonic palate a little bit wider with each subsequent listen. The idea of a double album to some (including this humble reviewer) can be a daunting task to undertake, but The Channel will make the experience well worth your time. Whether it be Pennington’s lovelorn musings on Two Tale Heart or the understated beauty of Reave’s Sibylline Machine, The Channel will charm its way into your iPod (and maybe even your heart). If nothing more, The Channel will keep the kids distracted until the next Shins album comes out, and that’s saying something.
The Velvet Underground – Loaded
Rogue Wave – Out Of The Shadow
The Boy Least Likely To – The Best Party Ever