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'Sailing' Into the ... Sunrise?

May 10, 2007 By:
M.J. Fine, JE Feature
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New voices and sounds: Glös and their "Harmonium"
Not every day is a winner, but there's no reason to believe things won't get better. "Let's Go Sailing" takes a healthy approach to those imperfect days; the Los Angeles quintet recalls the past with fondness, looks toward the future with hope, and plays soothing music in the meantime.

Shana Levy leads the way with sweet, girlish melodies, gentle guitars and melancholy piano. On her group's first album, "The Chaos in Order," Levy conjures brighter times ahead and behind. Her tone is calm and her words reassuring, but there's more to it than blind optimism.

What good is a silver lining without a cloud?

The instrumentation of "Let's Go Sailing" encapsulates that philosophy. The basics -- guitar, bass, drums and keyboards -- tell only half the story. Pedal steel and cello add the shadows that make all the difference between what's trite and what's true.

So many pop songs make love sound like a simple puzzle whose pieces fall into place on the first try. And then there are the drama queens who see every obstacle as immovable. "Let's Go Sailing" alludes to the complications without getting mired in them.

Tracks like "Too Many Stars" and "All I Want From You Is Love" acknowledge the darkness and keep going. In a way, that's all you can do. Because it's scary when two people who want to be together can't find a way to make it work. Some give up too soon. Some try too hard. It's a wonder it ever works out.

The conviction that you'll once again taste love's euphoria can help you navigate those rough patches, just as the memory of summer can keep you going even in the bleakest winter. As Levy sings on the bouncy "Icicles": "I know one day the sun will come out/and the icicles will have no choice but to melt/And I'll forget how this felt."

Yearn, swoon, suffer -- and move on. The trick is to find something worth getting up for when you'd just as soon stay in bed for the rest of your life. "The Chaos in Order" isn't quite that magical, but anything that can take the sting out of a cold and lonely night is a charm of sorts.

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Among the most complicated and least heralded emotional entanglements are those of siblings. Your constant childhood companion can grow into a distant relation. One minute you're fighting over who gets to sit next to Dad in the passenger seat; next thing you know, it's been months between phone calls.

Keeley and Maura Davis, natives of Richmond, Va., have found a way to bridge that kind of distance. He's best known for fronting the long-running post-hardcore group Engine Down; she got her start studying opera. When Maura decided to trade arias for airy rock, her big brother guided her into band life and played bass by her side.

Their band Denali made some hauntingly gorgeous music and played some fairly high-profile tours.

And then Keeley flaked out. Or maybe he just made his own songs a priority. Either way, he returned to Engine Down until it gave out and he moved on to Sparta, while Maura recruited a few ringers to keep Denali going until it evolved, first into Bella Lea, and then into Ambulette.

They've still got their own lives, their own locales and their own primary musical projects, but file-sharing wound up resurrecting their will to collaborate.

First, Keeley traded tracks with former Engine Down drummer Cornbread Compton, then they brought Maura into the mix. Sonically, that is -- as Glös; the three haven't shared a studio or a stage.

Where Denali was an atmospheric showcase for Maura's classical training, Keeley hogs the mic in Glös. On their debut, "Harmonium," she's more likely to harmonize with his nasal lead or add soaring background vocals. She steals the spotlight occasionally, as on the trippy "Tainted" or the driving "Public Speaker," but no single musical vision dominates.

Strangely enough, living and working apart has taken the Davises to new vistas; after separating their identities and playing to other people's strengths for a while, they have matured into a tighter unit.

Okay, so I'll really try to keep that in mind this week while I'm exploring New England with my brother. But even from the passenger seat, I'll be in charge of the radio. Some things never change.

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