On Dialectic’s album Acres and Continents Ying-sun Ho sings, "Everything is shiny and new" on the uplifting yet poignant "Meditation on San Francisco no. 17." This may be because Dialectic is moving around so much. Four of the songs on Acres and Continents contain the names of places with even more geographic references in the lyrics. It is the sound of a never-ending road trip that leaves life constantly fresh and new, while offering perspective and appreciation of where you're coming from, at the same time.
This push-and-pull of novelty, homesickness and burn out is remarkably similar to what it is to be a music fan in 2015. If one goes into a record like Acres and Continents with a "Ho hum, I've heard it all before," Dialectic's charms are likely to pass you by like so much roadside shrubbery. That's because Dialectic is understated, subtle and tasteful. The San Francisco quartet, (sometimes fleshed out to a septet), are spiritual descendants of power pop architects such as Chicago's John Vanderslice or latter-day R.E.M. member Ken Stringfellow. They don't shout; they entice.
It's impressive that Dialectic transfers this staring-out-the-window-watching-the-world-go-by sensation, seeing as how lead singer Ying-sun Ho was very nearly killed in a car accident in 2010. This setback put Dialectic on ice for a few years, but they're back! Rejuvenated and crafting sublimely poppy miniatures.
Dialectic has actually been a band since the early '90s, conjuring a racket in an antiquated Victorian attic. The experience shows in Dialectic's construction - stuttering guitars are placed like the crowning achievement of a 3D puzzle, while dyslexic drums prop up the pop sculptures. Dialectic claims both U2 and The Smiths as formative influences, both of whom were known for meticulously crafting understated indie rock masterpieces.
My favorite thing about Acres and Continents is the meticulous way the sonics are shaped and molded, courtesy of producer Laura Dean. Guitar lines and wobbling B3s are fine-tuned to a machinelike precision to be neatly stacked on top of each other. There is a certain disconnect between the vocals and the instrumentation at times, with Ho's vocals coasting on a bed of air. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it lends itself to the feeling of rootlessness and disassociation that comes from passing through too many places in too short of a time.
Acres and Continents is an exceptional art pop record with millions of tiny nuances to keep you from getting bored and always coming back for more! Swirling organs, groaning cellos and chiming layered guitar lines serve as a fine filigree to set the jewel of Ho's tales of survival, heartbreak, growing older and moving along. Fans of old, good Death Cab For Cutie, the melancholic power pop of Big Star or the powdered sugar coating of bands like The Decemberists or The Shins will find something to dig into here.
Here's to hoping that Dialectic can settle down long enough to record their next record!
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