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Swim Slowly

Doveman is not the huckster for a nonexistent brand of beer. In fact, it’s hard to tell whether Doveman indulges in any controlled substances at all: Depending on where you look on its Web site, the New York quintet plays either lysergic “lamp rock” or chemical-free “insomnia pop.” That makes more sense than you might think—after all, the group’s debut long-player, The Acrobat, plays like a waking dream. There’s a restlessness here that keeps these 10 resolutely languid songs from drifting off to Slumberland, and vocalist and multi-instrumentalist (and Salon columnist) Thomas Bartlett writes lyrics that contain as much regular reality as the sur- kind. (“The mind I said despairs too fast/History’s a looking glass/But eloquence is withered on my tongue,” from “Cities,” is a typical passage.) Instrumentally, the album is a sparse affair, with banjo and organ getting the most play while Bartlett’s Nick Drake– meets– Stuart Murdoch crooning, typically foregrounded in the mix, referees. Given Bartlett’s vocal similarities to the Belle and Sebastian leader—not to mention song titles such as “Boy + Angel” and “Teacup”—you might expect The Acrobat to play its pop in rather twee fashion. What most of these songs offer, however, hews more closely to the slightly skewed Americana of Jeb Loy Nichols, the Good Will Hunting balladeer whose “As the Rain” was upstaged only by Elliott Smith’s “Miss Misery” on that film’s soundtrack. “Walk On,” for instance, demonstrates the value of a well-placed cornet amid the rootsier sounds of acoustic guitar, violin, and, as ever, banjo. In “Clouds,” the horn gives way to a gurgling Wurlitzer as a pump organ drones insistently in the background. In “House,” it fills the space between lushly melodic verses with just a touch of atonality. It’s these and other such small flourishes, more than anything else, that make the album a success, albeit a fairly studious one. In that department, “Boy + Angel” might be Doveman’s most typical number: Clocking in at more than eight minutes, it’s almost academic in its development of a groove that seems perpetually about to come undone. It’s certainly the most instructive track here, perfectly illustrating The Acrobat’s bizarre little balancing act. —Chris Hagan