After listening to the first song on Belgrave To Kings Circle, I thought that Black Before Red sounded like a slightly more upbeat version of The Sea And Cake or Sam Prekop. The dreamy vocals and warm instrumentation were both there, with just enough lively rhythm to cause a slight sway in the hips. I heard the second song from their release on the radio, even before I'd played the CD, and upon hearing it wondered if The Shins had a new EP out that I somehow hadn't heard about yet.
Comparing Black Before Red to two different groups on the first two songs of their debut release is probably a bit unfair, but there we go. "Matagorda" is the aforementioned song that sounds very similar to The Shins, and honestly it's better than just about anything on Wincing The Night Away while sharing a lot of the same qualities. It's breezy, clever pop music that mixes a variety of instrumentation into a tight pop song with sing-along vocals. And really, that last sentence describes a good portion of Belgrave To Kings Circle. With eleven songs running just over a half-hour in length, it's not as if the Austin-based quartet ever stretches things out too long.
And so, the biggest problem with their debut release is that it lacks a real identity. There's a decent amount of variety, with "Bossa Nova #7" rolling with another Sea And Cake-ish track that mixes some soft drum machine programming with live drumming, electric piano and pretty guitar playing. There's also a bit of fuzzy power-pop in "Teenage America," and yep, another Shins-esque song in the keyboard-touched pop of "Halliberlin Petroleum" (with lead vocals that sound pretty much exactly like James Mercer to boot). On "Spilt Milk Mistake," the group manages to stand out with a lovely, atmospheric piece that's understated but surprisingly lush, but the album as whole still feels a bit disjointed. It's clear the group can write some great songs (and if you like the aforementioned groups you're not going to go wrong here), so here's hoping they carve out a bit more of a niche on their next release.