The Phantom Tollbooth

From Dayton With Love
Artist: Morella's Forest
Label: Tooth and Nail Records
Time: 10+ tracks/39:45

There was some talk in the months before the release of From Dayton With Love suggesting that Morella's Forest would be incorporating lots of new electronic sounds into the mix. False alarm, everybody. This is not the next Garbage album.

In spite of a few quirky keyboard sounds, which are a new thing for this group, inside this album beats the heart of a good old four piece band. There isn't a programmed beat anywhere in sight although their basic sound is expanded quite a bit from their two previous albums. "Water's Overhead" kicks things off with a ferocious explosion of guitars from out of nowhere that packs more of a punch than most of their older songs put together. There's clearly more going on here than the fuzzy droning that marked their earlier work and Sydney Rentz has shed the apparent boredom in her singing that marred their previous album, Ultraphonic Hiss.

Other sounds add extra layers to the sugary guitar pop that the album is built on. Lush strings and keyboards combine with a bouncy guitar line in the song "Separate." Noises that could have come from a 60's sci-fi movie are used in "Bounty Hunter" together with an invitation to "... join us for a ride through the moon / Around the stars to Mars / It's irresistible."

The only noticeable shortcoming may be in the melodies that accompany the bright, sometimes whimsical mood of the band's playing. Their debut Super Deluxe was full of hooks that were effortless and catchy, but here they sometimes seem a bit forced. The strongest is courtesy of a cover of the 80's pop hit, "Kids In America", which closes the album in style with a symphonic Pet Sounds feel. If the melodic sense from their debut ever meets the new multi-layered production of From Dayton With Love, Morella's Forest will truly be on to something special.

By Brett MacAlpine (11/19/98)