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Music criticism has been pushed to the brink of ridiculousness. Too many new albums to judge; too many shows to review; too many priggish distinctions to be made between band A and band B for language to bear. Thus, we must overreach to make the reviews we write appear different from the one we wrote last week, compounding our adjectives and squishing our nouns together in ways they were never meant to be. And, in a way, it's the same thing that bands are doing with notes and tones in an attempt to sound different from all the rest. As a result, this reviewer doesn't feel as guilty as he should for describing Ann Arbor quartet Light in August's new EP, Places, as dream prog. 

Nick Drake is an obvious influence for singer-guitarist Alex Wand, while Rachel Woolf's airy flute recalls a '60s bohemian pastoral. But there is little that will actually calm the nerves or even feel "groovy" here. Burning within the woody shade is a fire of spastic, staccato sparks supplied by drummer Max Stewart. As a result, Places often sounds like a collaboration between Donovan and Animal of The Muppet Show fame.

And yet this combination of peace-pipe smoke and coke buzz produces a fascinating effect, and any unsettling clashes are sated by the meticulous musicianship of the players and thoughtfulness of the songs. Wand's lyrics are positively Gibbardesque — arch-romantic ruminations about "me" and "you," reaching to describe the profundity of "us." "Krishna Consciousness" opens with a teasing sitar, Wand claiming that "in your eyes, I can see another world." "Out of Reach" could have been a standout track on last year's excellent Thao album, while the slow buildup of "Northern Lights," in addition to Wand's dulcet falsetto singing, is reminiscent of Detroit's own Silent Years. 

Somehow, this mixing of melodic sweetness and rhythmic fight seems to work for Light in August, resulting in one of the more invigorating local pop discs of the year. Just goes to show that forcing contradictory styles together can sometimes bring about something that doesn't seem forced at all.

Light in August play Friday, Oct. 16, at the Berkley Front, 3087 12 Mile Rd., Berkley; 248-547-3331; Tuesday, Oct. 20, at the Jazz Café, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit; 313-887-8532; and Sunday, Oct. 25, at the Blind Pig, 208 S. First St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-8555.

Scott Bragg writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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