JAM Magazine CD Review

May , 2013
Review by Peter Kurtz

Blue Cartoon

"Are You Getting On?"

Label: Aardvark

Blue Cartoon has been coyly issuing little ribbon-wrapped confections from Austin, Texas for fifteen years now. Each new chocolate box is devoured greedily by a cult of sugar-starved power-pop junkies, many of whom rank the band with better-known Beatles progeny like Teenage Fanclub, Cheap Trick, and Squeeze (vocalist David Loren is a dead ringer for Glenn Tilbrook). The Cartoon has had several personnel changes since its début, but the song-writing axis of Lee Elliott and Jeff Tracy has remained intact.

Are You Getting On? is the band’s fifth release (not counting a solo effort by Tracy). While it doesn’t echo the shimmering pop-craft of Downtown Shangri La and The Wonder of It All, nor the autumnal grandeur of the last release, September Songs (from way back in 2006!), it’s a well-produced collection that harkens more to '70s progressive rock than British Invasion or California folk-rock. The hook-happy "harmon-elodies" of old Cartoon only occasionally surface, but they’ve been supplanted by punchy, glitter-age guitar flourishes, tempo shifts, and some very atypical "space." 

But this isn’t your usual prog-rock cloning experiment. Rather, it’s delicate and tasteful, with just a whiff of an influence here or there.  The best examples of this are "Gray Horizon," with a mild reggae rhythm and spacey Camel-sounding vocals, and the languid "Pity Party," with a glimpse of Keith Emerson-styled organ, tropical guitar, and a sunny flute arrangement that recalls Pet Sounds. It’s an odd marriage, but strangely compatible. 

The centrepiece to which this record builds is "Light Ages" followed by "High Desert Suite." The former combines raga psychedelics with Eno-esque sound treatments. It then segues into a beautiful, dreamy mantra accentuated by some modest mellotron. The 11-minute "High Desert Suite" is the coup de grace, with a hint of sitar and tablas at introduction, then Gentle Giant-inflected electronics, a pastoral lyrical sequence, and another exquisite splash of mellotron as the cherry on top.