Dolls In Color (INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION) is the latest release from The Lickets, the San Francisco duo Mitch Greer and Rachel Smith who unfailingly create well-produced and enjoyable instrumental melodic music with guitars, cellos, synths, flute, and wordless vocalising. We’ve been following this group for some time (at any rate, they keep submitting releases to us), and noted their gradual shift from acting as playful anonymous pranksters in 2005, to growing increasingly pastoral and painterly in tone, providers of sophisticated background / TV soundtrack music, as represented by records like Eidolons and Song of The Clouds.
Their vinyl LP Here (On Earth) saw them apparently making a bid to say something about man’s place in the cosmos through over-produced ambient drone music; now, with Dolls In Color, there’s a vague underlying theme to do with magic and enchantment, but it’s a gentle pixie-dust and friendly Elvish brand of magic which they deal in, not the evil Crowley-inspired incantations of Simon Balestrazzi and his ilk. Their plan is reflected in titles such as ‘Birds of Enchantment’ and ‘The Magic Yard’, and the gloriously evocative ‘St Paul and the Peacocks’, which promise a fragile vision of impossible beauty, a promise which the music tries hard to live up to. While many of these tracks are short and pleasant instrumentals with near-melodies on offer, the duo sometimes attempt something a bit more ambitious, such as the textured ambiguities of ‘Human Lanterns’, which has a mystery and coldness not otherwise present on this largely sunlit and bright album.
I do want to like The Lickets more, but I sense they have a tad too much facility in playing and recording together, are perhaps too familiar with each others’ playing techniques and styles, and a certain glibness results in spite of their best efforts. I think they could compose a memorable tune if they put their minds to it, but they often settle for something that’s only halfway there in terms of structure, and use their considerable studio skills to prop it up. However, we mustn’t knock that facility too harshly, as many players would give their right arm for such gifts. Aided by two guest players on this occasion: AnnaMarie Hoos on vocals and Hanako Hjersman on violin. From 5th November 2015.