"...which brings me to Amiel (pronounced Ahhhh-me-L), a bespectacled fellow from Tenafly, New Jersey, whose grasp of the essence of soft, sweet, melody-drenched, harmony-buoyed music is practically without peer. I mean, just listen to 30 seconds of this incredible album and tell me what you think.
Amiel's bio lists XTC, the Beatles, Os Mutantes, Stereolab and Nick Drake as some of his favorite artists, so you might expect some kind of Brazilian-Swindonian-Beatlesque-electronic-folk hybrid, but that's not at all what this is. What it is, is an easy listening-sixties soft pop meeting-of-the-minds sporting a sometimes folky, electronic gloss. It's nothing less than the perfect soundtrack for a summer's day outing. It's largely performed by Amiel, it was recorded in Sao Paulo, New York and the aforementioned Tenafly, and it's simply, wholly wonderful.
From the opening Beach Boys-meets-the Free Design bouncy harmony-rich "Circles," awash in appropriately circling harmonies, bouncy percussion and Smile-era strings, to the closing, Parisian-flavored, playful instrumental "Postponed Raindates," Amiel creates sound landscapes that will send chills up your spine and put a wide smile on your face. A panoply of instrumentation, a variety of styles, and Amiel's entrancing, soft-pop vocals make this music come alive.
The magic of Amiel is in the construction of these infectious creations. Brilliantly arranged, they are populated, at their base, with just the right measure of guitar, keyboard, and percussion. This music breathes. The use of strings and various other instruments, such as banjo, bells, theremin and bird sounds (on the delightful, playful, drawing-room song "Mannequin"), is quite effective. The sound fields are generous and wide; instruments sound as though they're coming from all over the room. And the recording is sumptuous and accomplished; every note is crystal clear, with a healthy, tight bottom end always in evidence and the highs always crisp and sharp.
The writing is romantic, in the way that the songs wrap around your head, pulsing your imagination into gear as the songs play out. It just feels so good to be listening to this music. It all seems so effortless, but, of course, it isn't.
The gorgeous instrumental "Listening is Easy," a sly play on words, is perhaps redolent of the music that is in Amiel's heart. A casual, slightly-samba-esque rhythm, punctuated by bells, slide guitar accents, and horn sounds, encompasses the listener, ringing true from first note to last. It's an amazing track, and it packs a lot of punch in eight seconds shy of three-and-a-half minutes.
There is plenty more that is amazing about Accidents by Design, not the least of which is Amiel's use of guest female vocalists who provide a sweet counterpoint to the proceedings. Marcie's vocal on the upbeat, keyboard-dominated "Always All or Nothing" comes to mind, and so does Shivika Asthana's wonderful performance on the beautiful "This Way, That Way"; her breathy vocals on the opening verses are contrasted by the up-front approach that follows. The moment that breathy gives way to up-front, when Asthana sings "When will I see you the way that you are?/When will I see you with your new heart?", and the bass and percussion kick in is an incredibly sensual moment. It gets me every time.
Most effective when played all the way through, but just as good when played song by song, Accidents by Design joins Fritz Doddy's The Feeling of Far as another top-flight example of melodic music created by design, with feeling, and from the heart. What you get from this music is really invaluable. Play it in your dorm room, or at home, at your next summer picnic, but play it, play it loud..and play it soft. Turn your fellow human persons on to Tenafly's Amiel. It's up to you, because, when it comes to music like this, there are no accidents."
ALAN HABER -
Host of the "Pure Pop" radio show and publisher of the pop culture website, Buhdge (www.buhdge.com).