The Cricket Rumour Mill are a trio of midwestern musicians who met up in Chicago about 7 years ago and have been creating warm instrumental music since that time. They put out a couple of self-released EPs which then caught the ear of label Loose Thread Recordings, who then re-released the groups favorite tracks from those two efforts on an album called Renderings. Whereas on their first few recordings, they had to scrape together whatever extra instruments they could, If Only Then boast contributions from plenty of other area musicians and has horn and string arrangements that help fill in the sound.
"When Eyedrops Were Animals" opens the release and offers up a good idea of what to expect from the group as intricate guitar melodies weave around programmed beats and some subtle horns add a delicate punctuation. The track builds slightly as it moves along, adding some ever-so-slightly distorted guitar and some breathy, wordless female vocals before desolving into layers of bubbly keyboards and warm horns. "Shakespeare Machinery" follows and not only takes a much more concise route in terms of songwriting, but also strips back the instrumentation to only the standard bass/guitar/drums trio and a bit of analogue keyboard.
At some points, the group reminds me of the UK group D.O.T. with their blend of organic and electronic (mainly keyboards and some programmed beats) instrumentation. Unfortuately, in many cases the group has simply rounded off any potentially harsh edges, leaving a very, very mild batch of songs. With eight tracks running over forty minutes, the group often stretch tracks out for six minutes or more and it's during those tracks that they often seem to lose their focus, getting stuck in uneventful melodic loops and simply not doing much in the way of dynamics to hold interest.
When they focus a bit, the group has the ability to carve out some amazing tracks, which is evident on tracks like the three-minute "Country Midwestern." The track starts out with some lovely guitar interplay (backed by subtle strings) that shuffles along with quick dynamic changes before morphing into a pastoral closer in which steel drums add a bit of extra charm. Throwing out even more of a changeup is the track "Siamese William," which again makes great use of tempo changes while also featuring some hip-hop style vocals by Idris Goodwin that don't feel out of place at all on the subdued release. Overall, If Only Then is slightly hit-or-miss, an album that could have been even better had the group broke from the mold a little more often.