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Album Review: Agent Ribbons

Chateau Crone – 2010

Chateau Crone is the upcoming sophomore album from Agent Ribbons, a trio of ladies originally hailing from Sacramento, but now calling Austin their home.  The band consists of Natalie Gordon (vocals and guitar), Naomi Cherie (violin, cello), and Lauren Hess (drums, percussion), and together, they specialize in a sort of vintage sound with a few modern twists.  Agent Ribbons can probably best be likened to minimalist baroque pop, but even that effort at genre-tagging is an overly complicated explanation of the utterly charming, delightful tunes contained on Chateau Crone.

The instrumentation on the album features quite a bit of 1960s-influenced electric guitar work and simplistic drum beats; then there are also fuzzy musical breakdowns and dramatic violin tangents (“Born to Sing Sad Songs”).  All of this blends together in a disarmingly retro fashion, drawing you toward Agent Ribbons’ remote spot of sun-drenched antiquity.  What’s interesting about the instrumentation is that there really is no clear influence to pinpoint on Chateau Crone.  While there are very light shades of a few artists and sounds, like The Zombies, Neko Case, Beirut, and even ramshackle garage bands, Agent Ribbons have really worked to craft their own sound here.  It’s been a while since an album didn’t immediately remind me of another band or artist.

Importantly, the music works so well because of the vocal tracks, one of the absolute best parts about Chateau Crone.  Natalie has masterful control over her voice; it’s simultaneously sweet, alluring, and aching, and she has clever phrasing akin to Regina Spektor, but without ever becoming precious or indulgent.  It’s just a pleasure to listen to her sing, and it’s been captured very well on this album.  The delicately layered vocal harmonies (“Your Hands, My Hands”) are also a treat, as are the carefully designed lyrics touching mainly on love and heartache, and reaching beyond the self-confessional to the considerably tougher territory of descriptive storytelling.

As a whole, Chateau Crone sounds like the type of album you might hear being performed in a cabaret or small theatre.  It’s performative while managing to be mellifluous and full of heart.  The songs veer from poignant to sassy – and all are simply beguiling.  Agent Ribbons has a real winner on their hands, an album that exists outside of much of modern music while still sounding very in the moment.

Chateau Crone will be released in October.  Look for it online.

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