Memphis
I Dreamed We Fell Apart
2004
C



let's get it out of the way at the start: one of the two primary members of Memphis, Torquil Campbell is the front man for Stars. Knowing that information, you can easily find the sonic connections between the bands. Memphis doesn't come off as a Stars Jr., though. It’s more like a distant cousin with similar roots. Campbell and multi-instrumentalist Chris Dumont—along with James Shaw of Metric, Pat McGee of Stars, and others—create their own sleepy world on I Dreamed We Fell Apart, the group's first full-length and first recording since a 2002 EP.

Memphis has aptly titled its album, as the dominant tone on the disc lulls and caresses like a first-time parent. I want to call the music dreamy, but it lacks connection to either dream-pop groups like Luna or '50s heartthrobs. Occasionally the drumline rides on a steady electronic throb, but that's it. And even so, it’s more a gentle rocking rhythm than anything resembling a propulsive force. The songs are mood pieces, built around textures and whispery vocals, shifting throughout the album to create the feeling of drifting off, not quite to sleep, but nearing it inside a warm room.

A few tracks switch up the format. The best of these, "Nada" starts off with an ascending synth pattern. Campbell sings of flags and stars, circling around his main topic until a smooth-jazz sax solo marks the real point of the song, physical attraction, but with emotion supporting it. The narrator explains further: "Nothing is impossible ... You'll get yours when you give in / And to give in is not a crime". The sax and swung ride cymbal suggest sexuality, but the lyrics never make it explicit. The circular advance to the song's theme is reminiscent of the metaphysical poets modes of seduction, and Memphis proves that pop can be just effective in revealing while concealing when matters of the hearts and pants are concerned.

In case you thought the unnamed "it" might be impossible for you, Memphis follows "Nada" with a cover of the Pet Shop Boys' "Love Comes Quickly", explaining, "sooner or later this happens to everyone". The Pet Shop Boys are an unsurprising cover choice, but Memphis is deft enough to fit them easily into the album’s flow, continuing the thematic and atmospheric developments already at work. With love inevitable, you might wonder about the second part of the album's title ("We Fell Apart"). The band brings that idea out next with "Lullaby for a Girlfriend (or Happy Trails)." Sleep suddenly becomes a metaphor for distance and loss, a place of isolation rather than of rest. With that twist, the lullaby becomes a eulogy. Memphis avoids the traps of maudlin or cloying lyrics, letting the song's talk of the empty room remain soft and moving.

With such a subdued and steady tone, I Dreamed We Fell Apart sometimes suffers from an overdose of languidness. The middle section of the album drifts toward a redundant narcotic soundtrack. Aside from a few missteps, however, Memphis has created a solid album that has both emotional and musical depth. The album never quite reaches the dream world, and definitely never falls apart, but it’d satisfy a person heading toward either of those states.



Reviewed by: Justin Cober-Lake
Reviewed on: 2004-12-13
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