The best song on The Chemistry Set's full-length debut is a lacerating little number called "Lee Minor 7." It's a creepy, somewhat inscrutable story about dropping bombs and shooting guns, full of snare and syncopated piano and vocalist/guitarist Stephen Duncan's telephone-muffled voice reaching through all that to announce: "This is my million-dollar day." I've listened to that song probably 30 times, and each time I find new things to like about it--playful reverb, a perfectly placed guitar riff, an unexpected little piano plink, and later, I always end up in line somewhere, or walking along the street humming that hook: This is my million-dollar day. The songs here, written by Duncan with an occasional accomplice, are strongest when they are off-kilter and opaque. "Beautiful Tragedy" is another crashing, wicked sing-along. Other songs are pleasant, even lovely, but they lack some tooth. Album opener "Into the Light" has a few cringe-inducing phrases like "my heart is a star" and "holy and innocent the mind of a child." Still, The Chemistry Set manages to remind me of the strengths of similar pop bands (The Decemberists, Flaming Lips, Sunny Day Real Estate) without ever sounding exactly like them. Recorded by Todd and Toby Pipes, with additional recording at Salim Nourallah's Pleasantry Lane studios, The Chemistry Set may yet prove the local debut album of the year. Their million-dollar day may be not so far off.
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