Baroque with backbone

Why hadn't we thought of 'chamber pop' before?

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Chamber pop may not be known thus far as Detroit's musical calling card — but some area bands may begin asking themselves why they hadn't thought of forgoing their electric guitars for a violin and a cello after hearing the self-titled debut album by the popular Ypsilanti quintet, the Juliets. Produced by Office's Scott Masson (who, until recently, played drums in the band), this ambitious collection of songs showcases Jeremy Freer's songcraft with the aid of some soaring strings that are not just ornamental but essential to the band's sound.

The album opens with three tiny pop masterpieces, the songs "The Letter" and "This Just In" vying for the championship of most infectious hook of the year. The latter song is as haunting as it is joyous. At one moment, Freer dirges on about "the Motor City blues," only to push the music back up to a celebratory pitch, ending with a string accompaniment that could have been a long lost George Martin arrangement from the Sgt. Pepper album.

In contrast, the rest of the album has a moodier feel, fluctuating between the clamoring histrionics of Arcade Fire ("Who Needs Astrology?") and moving ballads that might bring to mind XO-era Elliott Smith (both "Streets of Gold," "Drive You Home"). Some songs, such as "The Sequel" and "Sunday Song," encompass both modes equally, moving from chord-pounding acrimony to soulful tenderness within the same song.

Yet, like most chamber pop, The Juliets is not without its fair share of melodramatic lyrics. And at times, they can come across as a little heavy-handed. But what separates this outfit from others of this ilk is the apparent commitment with which the band embraces the melodrama. This is baroque with a backbone, and if there's one thing anyone can sense when listening to the material that comprises The Juliets, either on the album or in concert, it's that they're preaching gospel ... and they mean it, man.

Scott Bragg writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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