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The Impossible Shapes

Secretly Canadian

Besides the fact that kids will undoubtedly spark up to the Impossible Shapes just as their parents did to Pink Floyd and the Incredible String Band before them, such comparisons, as promoted in the Shapes’ press, are pretty bewildering. It’s true that the Bloomington, Ind., quartet’s last effort, 2003’s We Like It Wild, was as enjoyable as any recent hippie-rock offering, striking an admirable balance between upbeat folk, well-rounded pop, and mystical atmospherics. But with its fifth and latest LP, Horus, the group has lost all sense of proportion: The ruddy-cheeked, barefoot-boy personification of Shapes records past has flung his apple cart into the sea and followed after, allowing the water to drag him down to where it’s dark and icky and things move very, very slooowly. Indeed, when vocalist-guitarist Chris Barth isn’t making the occasional reference to “Lighting a candle to Pan/Smoking at night in the den,” his lyrics tend to revolve around doomed situations—leaving, being left, loneliness. Opener “Bombs,” for example, pads in on a gentle riff and Mark Rice’s rumbling Fleetwood-style drums, then sinks from there: “When the sky dies, in time to move/And the moon flies, looking for room/I won’t be there for you, no way.” Even Barth’s usually agreeable tenor has gained an unpleasantly elfin edge—all the better, apparently, to warble out those recurring images of the sea, the forest, and the moon. A foray into glam-punk with the charging “Survival” might come as a relief from this string of plodding melodies and musings on loss, death, and “poisoned meat,” but it’s too copycat and throwaway to have the intended effect. And though the acid-folky “I Move by the Moon” offers a rare two minutes of tenderness, the sub-Plathian lyrics are a deal-breaker: “I am in love with your loneliness/ Loneliness, nonsense/Will you wait for the next full moon?” Barth sings. “…Don’t kill yourself tonight.” The album isn’t entirely without its charms, however—there’s some lovely fingerpicking from Barth, and Jesse Lee’s cello is usually well-placed, if sometimes a little faint. Such details help ensure that no one song is completely unbearable. And in terms of things you could throw on before smokin’ a bowl with some friends, that makes Horus far from the worst. —Anne Marson