For its second full-length, the space-pop quartet HUMDRUM compresses its fascination with buzzy synths, rangy guitars and interstellar soundscapes into a tightly constructed package. Although the group's debut album, Individual Man, was too diffuse and spotty, The Arrangement lives up to its name thanks to cleaner arrangements, a tighter focus and more melodic hooks. A song such as "Silence," which comes around the midpoint of the eleven-track disc, illustrates the band's development: The lilting, ballad-like tempo continually builds by smartly adding rhythmic elements one by one, as self-harmonizing vocals ride the crest of the wave. Paul Maguire and Dan Meehan share vocal duties, and their voices and song styles mesh well together (though it is tough to tell who is manning the vocoder on the peppy, French-funk track "Reproduce").
Along with a cleaner approach comes crisper production, compliments of Gareth Schumacher. The stomp-box-aided explorations are largely set aside, and a more organic palette drifts in gingerly on "Principia." Lullaby organ chords and twinkling glockenspiel provide dreamy counterpoint to a bright trumpet line and plaintive vocals. Still, Arrangement proves that the band hasn't completely lost its experimental urges. The closing track, "Rearrangement (Claire de Lune)," takes a very pretty recording of a Rhodes electric piano and pitch-shifts, tape-delays and otherwise mangles it into oblivion. Perhaps the track is a reminder that after an album of largely palatable, often catchy pop songs, HUMDRUM retains its penchant for artful noise and sonic destruction.
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