Just about the time I think I've heard so many dream pop albums that I'm going to be pushed over the edge into a monthlong listening spree of only hardcore and gabber music, another band comes along and reinstalls a little bit of my faith in the genre. In all honesty, I enjoy lush pop just as much as the next guy, but in terms of musical styles that are glutted beyond belief, dream pop probably only comes in behind pop-punk and rap rock on the oversaturation totem pole. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather listen to a bad dream pop track than even a decent track out of either of those other mentioned genres, but even I have a breaking point.
Spirit Flags is the sophomore release from A Northern Chorus, and based on having heard this release alone, the group sounds like they've managed to fall into stride pretty well. Like most bands in the genre, a good chunk of the tracks on this release are constructed from the solid building blocks of lush, layered and reverbed guitars and warm vocals, but instead of working one sound over and over again (the death of so many groups doing similar things), A Northern Chorus has a healthy grasp on orchestral flourishes and experimenting with different sounds, giving the album enough variety to make it an interesting trip.
After opening with the tepid "Song & I," the group seems to find its calling nicely with the instrumental of "Red Carpet Blues." With two chiming guitar melodies that twist and play around one another, the track sweeps into gauzy sections that move the track along perfectly and the track as a whole feels like something Slowdive might have done around the Souvlaki-era (which is a good thing). "Fragile Day" follows up with a delicate orchestral track, mixing flute, ebowed guitar, strings, and acoustic guitar alongside touching vocals. "Let The Parrots Speak For Themselves" is the epic of the album, building very slowly from quiet falsetto vocals to a rushing crescendo of strings, blistering guitars, pouding drums and more of that flute (which always seems to fit rather naturally into their tracks).
Another nice thing that the group does is in regards to the overall flow of the album. While it's not quite a clear delineation of back and forth from louder song to quieter song, the album never lingers for too long with one or the other. At 64 minutes, the 11 track album feels a tad on the long side when listened to from start to end, but when tracks are as good as the swaying "Louder Than Love" and the lovely "Moment Fit To Remind" (in which the group mixes warm male/female vocals to great effect), it's hard to complain too loudly. Even when the group rocks out, it's more of a hazy, rich textural push than a sound that makes you want to pump your fist. Soft, sometimes stunning music for watching stars (or the Aurora Borealis).