The Brilliant Inventions-Have You Changed. This Atlanta duo, comprised of singer-songwriters Josh Lamkin and Eliot Bronson, may have the folk-pop album of the year on their hands. These guys can harmonize with anyone, and have the tunes to go with the harmonies. Fans of Straw Dogs, The Karg Brothers, and The Jayhawks will love this disc. There are plenty of highlights here: the opener "Isn't it Worth it", which sums up their sound in one song; the title track, and its "oh-oh"s in the chorus; "There Goes My Heart", possibly the best track on the album, one which throws some piano and pop beats into the mix; the Rembrandts-esque "Could've Been You", and the shimmering pop of "What About Jennifer". A brilliant invention indeed.
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Secret Powers-Secret Powers and the Electric Family Choir. Last year, this Montana band had one of 2008's left-field pleasant surprises with Explorers of the Polar Eclipse, a kind of ELO/Jellyfish/Bleu melange that made my top 100 but in retrospect should have placed higher. They haven't wasted any time getting out the followup, and the Electric Family Choir is a trippier version of the debut, as the Dharma Initiative-like photo on the cover would indicate. The most brilliant thing here is "Orange Trees", which I can only describe as what The Move might have sounded like if Jeff Lynne was writing songs then like he did while in ELO. Frontman Ryan "Shmedly" Maynes has an agreeably gruff vocal style that makes their stuff sound like the cult classics they could become, but he gives way to another band member (unidentified by the liner notes) on the waltz-like "By the Sea", which quotes the Beatles' "Michelle". Other standouts include the baroque Jackdaw4-like pop of "Lazy Men"; "Misery", a Lynne-like ballad that would make Bleu jealous; and the 80 seconds or so of "Treat Your Mother Nice", which could have fit into Side 2 of Abbey Road without anyone noticing. If these guys want to put out one of these every year, I certainly have no objection. (Actually, I do have an objection: they're apparently so retro that you can't get their music digitally, on iTunes or elsewhere. If they really wanted to be purists, they should have released this vinyl-only.)
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