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Shambling Fantastic

Guillemots’ drummer wears a dress. This wouldn’t be unusual but for the fact that he’s a large Scotsman with too much stubble and a porkpie hat. I’m sure if you thought about it long enough this would be indicative of something, but I’m not sure what. Nevertheless, the simple thing is that by the end of the year, London’s Guillemots (“GIL-uh-mots”) might just be your favorite band.

Why? Because Guillemots are a ramshackle, multinational assemblage of assumed names, typewriter percussion, standup bass, a sweating Brazilian guitarist who elicits bird song from his six-string, bicycle bells, honking brass and sweetly chaotic tunes that leak melody backward like a sinking ship gains water. In Englishman Fyfe Dangerfield they have a singer-songwriter loaded down with lackadaisical charm and innocent romance — not to mention pipes like Rufus Wainwright, without the excess. (The group opened for Wainwright during his ’05 U.K. tour.) You can’t help but want to ruffle Dangerfield’s hair, flick his beard and listen to him make up songs on the spot for as long as possible.

From the Cliffs collects material from their first two U.K. singles for the American market — which is useful, because their debut EP, I Saw Such Things in My Sleep, now goes for more than 50 pounds on eBay (just for the CD — the vinyl price is so scary I daren’t type it). They’ve just rocked SXSW, no doubt in their usual, inspirationally scrambling manner, and just released a third single in Britain. And based on all the evidence at hand, they’re on the verge of making a remarkable debut album that could well make the whole world seem like a Miyazaki movie­­ — which is to say that their music is beautiful and strange and childlike and occasionally a little bit scary, too, if you get lulled in deep.

But for now all we have are these eight tracks, which are more than enough to get friendly with. “Trains to Brazil” and “Who Left the Lights Off Baby?” are euphoric slices of odd-pop, touched with a jazzy swing and lavished with enough melodic chirrups to make even the coolest cynic smile. “My Chosen One” is an impromptu love letter delivered with astounding intimacy, while “Go Away” is a rambling, occasionally mad-eyed epic. The two secret weapons though, are “Made-Up Love Song No. 43” and “Cats Eyes” — the former a delirious slice of grooving whimsy (hearing it on radio in England for the first time was my favorite pop moment of last year), and the latter a multisectioned psychedelic daydream that makes the alluring Canadian bassist (why do girls always seem to play bass?) groan when it gets shouted for live, such is its unpredictable and beatific course.

But the best thing about Guillemots is that they’re totally lacking in cynicism and fear, which makes even their missteps and bizarre idiosyncrasies something to be treasured. Wake up quick.


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