Australian rock bands don't tend to favour subtlety, and when they do they often get it wrong : even the great Go-Betweens occasionally teetered over into tweeness or preciousness. But not Sydney's El Duende. Their sense of balance on this (second) album is acute, tempering passion with understatement and detail with simplicity.
The tone is set with the rousing opener, Creatures. It's joyous and romantic, but also melancholy and elegiac. Numerous highlights follow, built on a rich bedrock of cello, sax and trumpet (mostly courtesy of one Virgil Reality). Singer, songwriter and erstwhile Craven Fop Daniel Morphett has a deep and expressive voice, which is counterpointed by a sinister, droning and Velvet-tinged droning quality on High Tide. There are lilting gentle melodies, but also a stirring finale in Amber And Wine. Its intensity is underpinned by Christian Rosenmai's violin, which has its own internal dynamic as it veers from consoling to edgy.
Good music often comes with an inbuilt paradox : its very strength and originality brings to mind illustrious forebears or influences. So it is with Fleeting Glimpses. There are echoes or suggestions here of Scott Walker at his most reflective, of John Cale (circa Paris 1919), of latterday mavericks such as Willard Grant Conspiracy... even of mariachi. But the net result is distinctive.
Morphett's lyrics are a treat, with their sad/wry observations about the ways we undervalue nature and cripple our own emotional potential. (On Carelessness, he sings "The outer sheen of carelessness / Betrays the heart of carefulness / They are the same I guess.") There's exasperation here, but also hope.
The tunes stick in your head, too. Now there's an unfashionable quality.MARK DEMETRIUS