In Lisa Cholodenko's new film Laurel Canyon, Frances McDormand plays a graying record producer holed up in her boho-funky L.A. hideaway with an unnamed English rock band trying to create mellow radio gold that doesn't stint on genuine emotion. If you discount the fact that they'll never get played on commercial American radio, the band might as well be Turin Brakes; Ether Song, the duo's new sophomore disc, is a luminescent space-folk gem they recorded on a southern Californian junket with help from Beck's bass player and Air's drummer, full of the earnest British solemnity Coldplay's been selling lately but also graced with the artistic-cowperson aura the real-life Laurel Canyon offered Joni Mitchell and her pals a generation ago. It's the radio's loss: "Self Help" billows out from a single strummed acoustic guitar to a shimmering cloud of tambourines and fake harpsichord, "Pain Killer (Summer Rain)" boasts a sweetly half-assed Steve Miller solo, and I'm pretty sure every song's got that backward-guitar effect Radiohead seems to love. Singer Olly Knights (a name so appropriate it just skirts self-parody) allows the songs to unfold at their own pace, savoring each impressionistic evocation of stars and big blue skies and panic attacks before moving to the next, so Ether requires some close attention before it emerges from bland coffeehouse politesse. But once it does it really does, revealing a lifetime of nights speeding toward the edge of everywhere.
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