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Charmparticles overcome lineup changes to produce compelling album

Analise Lipari | Thursday, November 15, 2007

Calling to mind 90s alt-rock groups like Blind Melon and the Cranberries while still feeling as modern as bands like Muse, the Portland, Oregon-based band Charmparticles has created a compelling mix of strong guitar hooks and ethereal vocals on its first full-length album, “Alive in the Hot Spell.” The band has only a handful of prior releases, and this one feels just right. There’s something almost addictive about this album, and hopefully it isn’t the last Charmparticles creation to hit the Billboard charts.Originally, the Charmparticles lineup centered on the harmonious pairing of singer/bassist Pamela Rooney and fellow vocalist Adam Wayne. With Wayne’s recent departure, however, Rooney’s vocals are rounded out by drummer Nathaneal Merrill and guitarist Sarah Fitzgerald. Despite any lineup changes, the band’s sound doesn’t feel uneven or shaky, and Rooney’s vocals are more than strong enough to carry the weight of each song.The album opens with “Black Braid,” a track whose unassuming first notes feel more like a lullaby than anything else. Combined with Rooney’s soft soprano, the slight electronica sound of “Black Braid” is dreamlike and seductive, an aesthetic that continues in many of the album’s other tracks. With the first track, Charmparticles is slowly drawing in its listeners for an hour-long ride through an alt-rock dreamland.The second track, “Gold Plated Shot,” keeps you guessing as it establishes the guitar style that defines much of the album: rock-type riffs with an off-the-beaten-musical-path feel. The song’s alternating tone and sweeping vocals are juxtaposed against Fitzgerald’s guitar work, and for the better. “Gold Plated Shot” is probably the strongest song on “Alive in the Hot Spell,” and it sets a solid tone for the rest of the record.”Relapse,” the fifth track, is grounded in the band’s alt-rock roots, again employing successfully that stylistic blend of rock guitar and swirling, ethereal vocals. The song dampens the album’s mood with an angrier feel – a sentiment that also carries over to the sixth song, “Battersea” – but in a way that allows the album to develop and progress without being limited by its own tropes. “Battersea” takes this development further in its lyrics as well, leaving the listener mournful as Rooney repeatedly sings, “So much wasted.” The lengthy introduction on “Ablation Cascade” lets Fitzgerald impress the listener with her best guitar work, showcasing how critical she is to the band’s overall sound.Other strong tracks include “The Quiet View,” the half-instrumental 11th track, “Kohii,” and the album’s closing song, “Sea of Okhotsk,” with traces of Windsor for the Derby, among other influences.The band began as a different group, Drive, when Wayne was still a member. In time, the lineup and name evolved into the Charmparticles of today, which Rooney chose to keep in spite of Wayne’s departure. While “Alive in the Hot Spell” is arguably a solid contribution to the music scene, Rooney acknowledges that climbing to the top hasn’t always been easy.”Oh yeah. It’s really easy to be starry-eyed when you’re 21,” Rooney said in a recent interview with Portland magazine Willamette Week, “and you’re finally playing a gig at that venue you always wanted to play. I remember thinking in the Drive days, ‘Someone’s gonna come along and sign us and everybody in the world is gonna love us.’ Then, after the first couple labels don’t call back, you go, ‘Oh, so this is what people were talking about.'”Rooney and Co. can easily set aside any fears with this latest release. “Alive in the Hot Spell” is an impressive first full-length album, and it’s likely that industry insiders and casual fans alike will be calling back Charmparticles for a while.