The Constellations' debut album Southern Gothic
is a contemplative and catchy album with a distinct sound and perfect level of variation. A concept album of sorts, the record is an ode to the group's hometown of Atlanta, spinning tales of the goings-on there between the hours of midnight and four A.M.
"Setback" is an original cornerstone of the album, supposedly a cover (with new lyrics) of Tom Waits's song off the album Small Change
. A more accurate description of the track would probably be a song loosely derived from and heavily inspired by Waits's track of the same name. Without prior knowledge the track is unrecognizable, but once you know it's easy to see. The two artists' musical styles bear little resemblance and I would never have arrived at the comparison by myself, but they're creating different takes on a similar fascination. The Constellations' sound clearly holds some roots in Waits's, from the bluesy stuff to the rambling stories, and the main connection is in content. Both bands paint dimly lit portraits of mangy characters roaming midnight streets from one whiskey bar to the next, and while their styles are disparate, the mood is preserved.
The sound and the content on Southern Gothic
are closely linked but not in an expected way; the album seems deeply personal, which makes sense as it's a portrait of the city the whole band calls home. The curiosity and dedication in the lyrics, even when you get to "felicia/so sexy when you're working on your knees girl" makes you wish every artist could have such genuine inspiration. While the content is mostly sort of seedy nighttime business, the choruses often ooze just enough pure 90s pop to appeal to absolutely anyone's guilty pleasure, best exemplified on "Love Is A Murder." The rest of the track, though, is always inventive and a complete genre switch. Frontman/ main creative force Elijah Jones's vocals (with some help from the voices of Cee-Lo and Asher Roth) easily accompany funk on "Felicia", Beck-like indie rock on "Setback", predominantly hip-hop on "Weigh Me Down," ringmaster announcing/ bedtime storytelling on "Step Right Up." The sound is always in keeping with the imagery, and the transition from one song to the next always achieves refreshing and exciting, and falls short of distracting.
is an instant hit as soon as you notice the flawless integration of harpsichord (or the keyboard setting that sounds like one, anyway). But even without other-era instrumentation, this set of neo-soul indie raps crooned and told and drawled about early morning barflies make for an addictive debut album that puts a massive spotlight on the Constellations. -selden paterson
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