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The Constellations - Southern Gothic
(Virgin Records)
3 1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 18, 2010
The Constellations

Review by Tony Bonyata

Atlanta is apparently a city that gets its "freak on" after the witching hour, when, according to The Constellations' frontman Elijah Jones, strange things happen. "We're basically all pushed together," the Atlanta native admits. "The hip-hop heads, punk rockers and indie kids all rub shoulders and mix it up." This late night collision of vastly different cultures and music styles has manifested itself perfectly on The Constellations' debut album Southern Gothic.

While the title may allude to the eloquence, decadence and tragedy that fueled novels by William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Flannery O'Conner, this is music that coolly nods to the South (particularly the underbelly of Atlanta) rather than merely mimicking or capitalizing on any particular image or style of the area. In fact, Jones and his ever evolving cast of musicians (hence the band's moniker) effortlessly meld hip-hop, funk, soul, post-punk and indie rock into something that's uniquely Southern - sounding as if Gorillaz' leader Damon Albarn was raised on grits & gravy instead of tea and scones.

The album leads-off with "Setback" which combines spacey, shoegazing art-rock and a twee indie melody with Jones' cooler-than-a-cucumber soul-meets-rap vocal delivery. The slightly sneering and sinister "Perfect Day" sounds like Depeche Mode at an A-Town Barbeque, while the band wonderfully pays tribute to Tom Waits on the seedy "Step Right Up." They also get a little help from some other local luminaries such as Gnarls Barkley's Cee-Lo on the catchy "Love Is A Murder," as well rapper Asher Roth on the percolating hip-hop/pop of "We're Here To Save The Day." As welcome as the guests are here though, they merely provide a bit more icing to this delicious multi-layered cake, as proved on the Beck-like R&B-meets-indie rock of "Felicia," the greasy funk of "Take A Ride," the indelible and beautiful melody that drives the chorus of "December" and the tasteful soul-pop of the closing track "On My Way Up."

There's a lot going on here on The Constellations' first outing, but if they keep adding interesting musicians, styles and sounds like this for future releases, then this one Southern party that should only get bigger and better.

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