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Imaginary People - Dead Letterbox

  by Adrian Janes

published: 25 / 11 / 2015

Imaginary People - Dead Letterbox
Label: Five Five Diamonds
Format: CD


Excellent debut album from New York-based alternative rock act, Imaginary People

From ‘Simple Life’, the stomping opening track of 'Dead Letterbox', Imaginary People establish an approach that’s as passionate as the playing is accomplished. The voice of Dylan von Wagner in the middle of it all has a tremulous, protean power that at different points evokes a more assured David Byrne (‘Summerstock’), the delicacy of Jeff Buckley (‘Stella’) and the heartbreak of an Anthony Hegarty (‘Agata’). But what ultimately makes this album so impressive is that all the other elements - supporting musicians, production and above all, a clutch of highly melodic, dynamic songs - are just as good. Von Wagner’s voice is typically reverbed, giving it a retro rock and roll feel, yet it’s uniquely mingled with post-punk dance rhythms, adroit guitarwork, and keyboards that know when to hold back and when to push to the fore. But even as the band quickly establish this characteristic mixture during ‘Simple Life’, ‘Summerstock’ and ‘Plain Purple’, as the album develops it’s also increasingly clear that each song has been given its own distinct treatment. So ‘Agata’ is a mid-paced, vast with reverb lament, on which von Wagner sounds at his most stricken and where Mark Roth’s guitar gives especially sympathetic backing. ‘Gingerbread Girl’ is piano-led and adorned with strings but coupled with fuzz guitar and thunderous drum fills, like a garage band that has wandered into a cocktail lounge, the tune’s essential wistfulness heightened by a George Harrison-style solo. Meanwhile ‘Russian Hill’ climaxes with an intense, entrancing interplay of synths and guitars like vintage Todd Rundgren, and ‘All-Star’ has a brisk, shuffling rhythm over which a bright vibes-like line shines and von Wagner touches on Orbison levels of emotion. ‘She Is’ and ‘Fever Nation’ signify a slight dip in quality: the melodies are not as strong, the playing not so inventive. ‘Fever Nation’ in particular, with its clichéd disco rhythm and von Wagner’s possibly ironic exhortations to “Dance, dance, dance”, comes over as struggling to get listeners involved in a song the band themselves aren’t very interested in. But ‘Miles’ immediately allays the fear that the album is in terminal decline. Dominated by a simple organ hook allied with strong, slick drums, an intense vocal and - yet again - some superbly fierce guitar, it succeeds for all the reasons ‘Fever Nation’ doesn’t. ‘Stella’, which then concludes the album, is a touching contrast after much of what has gone before. A melancholy reverbed guitar, its tone close to a balalaika, brushed drums and plunging strings accompany von Wagner in perhaps his most affecting performance of the entire album. He has stated that the album has “a lot of espionage and politics in it”, though apart from the title - which denotes a secret location where spies exchange information - this isn’t readily apparent. What’s most important is that Imaginary People don’t end up like so many fine independent bands, placing their work in the aural equivalent of a dead letterbox. Flooded though we are with musical data, this album should be no secret but l;eaked to the world.

Track Listing:-
1 Simple Life
2 Summerstock
3 Plain Purple
4 Agata
5 Russian Hill
6 Gingerbread Girl
7 All Star
8 She Is
9 Fever Nation
10 Miles
11 Stella

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