National Eye — Roomful of Lions

Reviewed by aarik

With their second album, Philadelphia-based collective National Eye has released one of the most rewarding and clever records of the year. Equal parts earthy, patchouli-scented folk rock and melodic, psychedelic pop, the group should certainly appeal to devotees of bands such as Grandaddy, My Morning Jacket, Sparklehorse and Mercury Rev. However, with their impressive dabbling in a wide array of sounds, structures and textures, National Eye has something splendid to offer enthusiasts of almost any genre.

Whether meandering through colorful soundscapes or presenting something resembling a straight-ahead rock song, the group proves consistent both in its decidedly mellow approach and the depth of sound they produce. Each of the album’s highlights provides ample opportunity for listeners to explore multiple layers of interest. “Bird and Sword”, for example, employs a fairly typical lo-fi intro and sunny vocals, before eventually evolving into a mix of wandering guitars and electronic crescendos that somehow lead back to the upbeat feel established earlier in the track. “Silver Agers” follows, continuing in this vein with its mix of driving beats and laid-back vocal delivery.

In like fashion, “Lights”, while barely exceeding two minutes, manages to utilize a wealth of elements including accented percussion, horns and a multi-faceted vocal approach. “Ag1” combines gruff lead vocals with a chorus of backing hums and rootsy guitars to provide a tripped out, rustic feel. Fortunately, National Eye’s exploration and combination of differing sounds and moods never leads to clutter or pretentiousness. While the arrangements are often complex, songs like “Invisible Raincoat” and “Drowned in Bed” somehow retain a sense of innate sincerity and simplicity.

If there is but a shred of justice in the world of independent rock and roll, Roomful of Lions should prove a breakthrough work and watershed moment for National Eye. With an approach to recording that achieves a delicate chemistry between the strange and the sublime, the group has exhibited an ability to harness the diversity of their ideas in a way few bands do.

Oct 3 2006