A bit late with this review cos Bending Mirrors was released in the middle of 2009 but the guys are coming over to the UK this autumn, so I'm timely in that respect. Home for Celilo is Portland, Oregon; that part of the world has a rich Native American history not so well known over here and this band takes their name from a community on the Columbia River, apparently the longest continuously occupied site in North America till it was flooded for a hydro scheme in the 1950s. So, that's one reference point: songwriter and lead vocalist Sloan Martin is striving to reach beyond the tarmac and Dunkin' Donuts to find a culture he feels more attuned to and this theme crops up frequently in his writing.
The musical reference points, however, are mind - stretchingly eclectic. Imagine Ryan Adams in an early 70s Pink Floyd frame of mind, with a side serving of Neil Young and Fleet Foxes and you'll be somewhere close. All those guys, and a couple of dozen others, are cited as references on their Myspace page. The Pink Floyd element comes in with some beautiful dreamy guitar, reminiscent of Meddle more than any other Floyd album to my ear, and with Sloan Martin's voice a dead ringer at times for what I think of as the definitive voice of Floyd, though I confess I never did work out whether that was Dave Gilmour or Roger Waters. It's an understated sound, anyway, kind of cool and detached, which fits well with the dreamy soundscapes these guys make. They don't mention Genesis as an influence but they do have an early- Genesis-like tendency to shift gears mid song; this is particularly evident on Sirens of Metropolis where we suddenly seem to emerge from a dark forest of sound onto a sunlit plain. Don't get the idea, though, that these are prog rock pieces that would fill a whole side of a vinyl album. Thirteen songs here take up just forty five minutes, and though they sound expansive they're actually quite tightly compressed: poetic sketches rather than epic novels.
That literary comparison came to mind because I'm really impressed with Sloan Martin's lyrics and I'm really glad they're printed on the sleeve; it's difficult to appreciate them properly until you read them as a piece. You pick up on phrases that seem randomly evocative as each song floats by but to read the whole thing you realise what carefully worked little stories thse are and I'd guess he could get a second career going as a writer.. What you're mostly going to get, though, listening to these guys, is the sheer pleasure of their carefully wrought sound as pedal steel, keyboards, electric guitars and assorted other instruments wash around each other with just enough rasp and bite at times to give you something to chew on. Kipp Crawford's drumming is mighty and dramatic - a fair simulation of Nick Mason in fact - where required but gently bucolic when the mood fits. Sadly, he was run over and killed towards the end of last year which must have been a huge loss to the band - he makes a big contribution to the sound of this album.
There is so much to enjoy in this album, it's like a five course banquet really - so rich and deep in it's textures, but then I still have a lot of fondness for some of those early 70s sounds. It feels like a homecoming of sorts to hear a band bringing them into the 21st century.