By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
El Gato had some big expectations to meet. It's been almost six years since its last release, and the beautifully rich, layered orchestral pop of 2002's We're Birds would have been a tough act to follow even without the long wait.
Surrender! may not quite be the equal of We're Birds, but it's darn close—and inching its way closer with every listen. Though the songs don't blend as seamlessly as they did on the previous album, Surrender! is surprisingly cohesive for an album that was recorded in two states by five different producers (including Dallas' Pipes brothers and Stuart Sikes).
Opener "Scorpions in Your Shoes" sets the tone nicely, with heavy, reverberating guitars crunching over organ and a plodding martial beat. Honey-voiced singer John Vineyard conjures abstract images ("Plastic owls hunt plastic mice") that seem to be a subtle comment on the futility and frustration ("I can't explain the things I do again and again") felt in the aftermath of a breakup. "The Frustrated Cowboy" picks it up a bit and adds quirky percussion, featuring an outro chorus ("Drink twice as fast and twice as much") that bartenders are sure to appreciate. Another highlight is the uptempo "Wild Turkey." During the chorus, the piano and fuzzed-out guitar double up in a simple ascending scale that sounds perfectly appropriate.
Surrender! is a worthy follow-up to El Gato's masterpiece, with some of the prettiest songs about heartbreak you could ever hope for.