The acoustic guitar scales dance with trickles of piano and the occasional tip-tip-tapping of drums, singer-songwriter Katerina Papachristou’s breathy vocals leading the way. It is a magical stew, one concocted with ease, even with solemnity. And this is how we’re introduced to The Light, the newest offering from Tango With Lions, one of Greece’s most renowned English-language bands.
The record is amazingly accessible and goes down easy, a kind of ballad-heavy, pop or pop-rock record – in the classic sense – with gallons of substance to spare. But there’s also a richness and earthiness to the recording that lends even the most spare moments elements of indie-folk, and Papachristou’s vocals bely shades of her acoustic singer-songwriter roots.
On “Back To One,” the aforementioned opener, the gentle 1-2-3-4 roll of a snare fits in perfect time with the finger-picked acoustic measure, an ideal backdrop for Papachristou to gently push out her reverb-tinged harmonies. “Proof of Desire” is an impeccably recorded blues number (you can hear the fingers and guitar-pick scrape against the strings) whose most important moment is either the rock explosion at the end or, earlier on, the accompanying electric guitar, which wouldn’t be out of place in one of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s songs. “Last Thrill” is a pop-rock gem, where bright guitars, tight drum-work and a bouncy bass are overshadowed only by a backing vocal track on the chorus – “ba-ba-BAH-BAH” – and some trumpet accompaniment that are simply, utterly delicious.
And this is just the first three songs.
We’ve known for nearly 10 years now that Tango With Lions was a force to be reckoned with. But, following A Long Walk, the band is geared up to show listeners just how sharp the musical knife cuts. “Phoenicia” is a brightly colored acoustic number that exudes charisma and positivity, while the title track goes Frisell-faux-electric to wondrous effect. On the other side of the spectrum (but only a few songs later) is the moody, gray “The Go Betweens,” which shows Black Heart Procession a thing or two about storm clouds and musical saws. (Between them is the rollicking acoustic-driven “What You’ve Become,” a single if the record has one.) They close the proceedings with the spare, found-sound-laced “L’Ombre,” an unusual curtain-call but a fitting end to a record that keeps you paying attention, never quite knowing what to expect lurking around the next corner.
Let it be said: Papachristou alone is reason enough for checking out the LP, out now on Inner Ear. She exudes a warmth but also a staggering command of the songs that helps drive the whole record. This is a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to deliver. But the band is not an afterthought and neither are the songs. The Light is a wondrous little record, at once vulnerable and assured in its presentation, and worth finding.