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Spiritualized: Songs in A&E

Spiritualized: Songs in A&E

Release Date:2008

By Judy Berman | Posted 6/4/2008

By the time Jason Pierce, aka J. Spaceman, was hospitalized with a life-threatening illness in the summer of 2005, he had already written most of Songs in A&E. While recovering, he worried that the album would be misunderstood as a response to his near-death experience. It's easy to see why: A&E reeks of mortality. Pierce's voice sounds world-weary, ragged, and weathered. On "Death Take Your Fiddle," he listlessly longs for the comfort of eternal sleep. Even the love songs are fraught with disappointed expectations and soul-killing compromises.

Pierce, who once helmed shoegaze outfit Spacemen 3, is not the kind of Rolling Stones-y British songwriter who fetishizes American music. But on A&E, he looks to the various subgenres of Americana that have become musical shorthand for age, wisdom, and authenticity. Making liberal use of bluegrass, folk, and blues, Pierce folds murder ballads and lullabies into the meticulously produced symphonics that are Spiritualized's hallmark. A&E exploits the tension between spare, ancient forms and newfangled technical wizardry to spellbinding effect. Pierce can still wield a string section like nobody's business, but he keeps in check his propensity toward lushness for lushness' sake.

Since 2003's Amazing Grace, Spiritualized has been stripping away the density and theatrics that became its hallmark in the '90s. On that unsatisfying album, Pierce failed to replace those elements with anything of substance. Songs in A&E chooses a clear--and daring--direction without giving up the scrupulous attention to detail that remains Spiritualized's greatest strength.

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