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GUTHER (Buy CDs by this artist)
I Know You Know (Ger. Morr Music) 2003
Sundet (Ger. Morr Music) 2006

Although vocalist Julie Guther and instrumentalist Berend Intelmann are Germans based in Berlin, their dream pop has a decidedly French accent. In what is basically a selfconscious attempt to synthesize the lushly melodic personal guitar rock of Ivy with flourishes of the more abstract and political Stereolab, her singing so closely resembles Ivy's Dominique Duran that one is tempted to check the liner notes. This affinity is tempered only at the margins, when Guther genuflects toward a chilly detachment reminiscent of Laetitia Sadier. Instrumentally, the songs invite precisely the same comparisons, mixing breezy, soothing, layered songs (Ivy) faintly embellished with martini-lounge droning (Stereolab). The lab analysis of Sundet finds five parts Realistic diluted with one part Mars Audiac Quintet.

Despite such derivation, the disc still manages to be really good. The opening "Still in This Town" offers a chamber music intimacy that suggests a whispered conversation with a friend on an autumn afternoon. "Who Was First" sets the same tone, with Guther singing wistfully over a tastefully restrained arrangement. "Afraid" and "Many Frames per Moment" are more aggressive, with the voice agreeably mixed down in whirlpools of guitar and flute. "Trick or Treat" turns the volume up as loud as the band's style allows, relying on sharp, sweet drumming to provide the hooks. Best of all is the hypnotically alluring "Even When Its Not," which offers a piercing dissection of romantic angst set to the disc's busiest, most ambitious arrangements. If that song is the most literal of the Ivy that covers Sundet, it at least illustrates the band's good taste. Equally imitative but less successful, the draggy "Throwing Thoughts" and "Two Minds Inbetween" reach for melancholy and significance but succeed only in being mopey. It is less minor missteps like these than the band's failure to develop an individual style that prevents Guther from realizing the potential their best moments suggest. In the end, Sundet is beautiful, even at times haunting, but amounts to nothing more than an exercise in style.

[Benjamin Radcliff]