Down and Out In Shangri-la
New Wave quirkiness and prog-rock ambition comingle on changing modes’ Down and Out In Shangri-la. The third album by this New York foursome suggests an unlikely assortment of reference points, including Blondie, No Doubt, Sparks, Led Zeppelin, and Procol Harum. Highly proficient musicianship and a poker-faced sense of humor enable the band to juggle these influences without embarrassing themselves. The songs (written by keyboardist Wendy Griffiths) offer jittery sci-fi fantasies and impressionistic flights anchored by surprisingly effective hooks. “No Fly Zone,” “Blue Tomorrow,” and the title track deliberately trip up their bouncy tunefulness with odd tempo shifts and erratic instrumental breaks. The string-accented “Race the Wave” gives the group a moment of classical-rock grandeur, while “Vital Signs” and “Gate/He Walks In Darkness” get funky in a cerebral sort of way. Singer Camille Atkinson adds needed vocal heft (especially on the hard-thrusting “Ship”) and guitarist/bassist Yuzuru Sadashige works overtime to flesh out the album’s often-complex arrangements. Changing modes can be overly fussy and too cute for their own good, but behind these busy, brainy tracks are an adventuresome spirit and a sharply satiric attitude.