Head of Femur

With Hysterical Stars, Head of Femur finally has the budget to make the record that fits the scope and imagination hinted at on its debut album, 2003's Ringodom or Proctor. The band's sound has always been intricate, with brass sections hiding in every corner and tempo changes popping up throughout. Occasionally, though, the weight of ambition crushes the limitations of the songs. The plaintive "Oh You're Blue" doesn't warrant the opulent string flourishes, and it often feels that all 20-something guest musicians are vying for the same microphone in the studio.

The kitchen-sink treatment works best on Head of Femur's manic, vaguely psychedelic songs, like "Easy Streets." While the well-orchestrated zaniness is still well intact, Hysterical Stars has a strong streak of melancholy, one that fits nicely with Matt Focht's earnest, fluctuating tenor. "Song for Richard Manuel" is a touching paean to the late The Band singer, and the saxophone soloist beautifully channels Garth Hudson's sweet, elastic tone. It's a fitting tribute to one band of genre-bending misfits from another.

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Christian Schaeffer