National breakout

Nov 1, 2006 at 12:00 am

Like most groups influenced by Radiohead, the Silent Years try to make atmosphere another instrument. The liners for the Detroit-area quartet's full-length debut note six, 10 and 14 instruments for each member — things like shruti boxes and space echo appearing alongside the usual complement of guitars, bass, drums and keys. But while Radiohead often uses technology and effects to create claustrophobia, Silent Years believe in better living through sound — odd noises and soft bumps in the night course through songs such as "No Secrets," "Someone to Keep Us Warm" and "Devil Got My Woman," and Josh Epstein's occasional vocal resemblance to Jeff Buckley only makes them even more pleasantly disorienting. (Cryptic, ear-catching lyrical turns complete the picture.) But all the recordings of birdsongs in the world ("Lidocaine") won't matter if the songcraft isn't strong, and fortunately the Silent Years have that covered too. It takes a few listens for their thing to really click, but, once it does, the melodies freshen like spring flowers and you appreciate the restraint Silent Years display throughout, because it's clear that no one is trying to sound too grand on their big national debut. The upbeat songs just hit a sweet spot similar to Guster, and the experiments with atmosphere quietly engross. This is a pop album with depth, and that's a nice thing for a band to add to its list.