Listen Up: Wednesday, March 13, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
The Chemistry Set

The Chemistry Set (Self-released)

By Ken Shimamoto

This debut e.p. has been a long time coming. Recorded over the past six months on a computer in a Dallas home studio, the disc neatly fulfills the promise of the earlier work of frontman Steve Duncan with Grand Street Cryers, Blue Sky Black, and the Happiness Factor.

What we have here is a set of gorgeously melodic, psychedelic pop songs. Duncan’s a fan of Tim DeLaughter’s almost aggressively uplifting rock orchestra Polyphonic Spree, and there’s some of that group’s unremitting positivism here, along with more dreamlike elements. Keyboardist Meredith Knoll’s cover paintings, like the illustrations from a children’s book, capture the incandescent essence of the music inside.

The Chemistry Set has a wide array of instrumental textures at its disposal — Duncan and Andy Myers’ guitars, Knoll and bassist Corey Helms’ keys, even the little bit of glockenspiel that Helms adds at the start of “Into the Light” — but these musicians wisely realize that it’s not necessary for them to use everything they have all the time. They don’t make any obvious choices.

The centerpieces, of course, are Duncan’s voice and the songs. The proximate models seem to be acts like the Beatles at their Magical Mystery Tour trippiest, early Pink Floyd, the pre-Ziggy Stardust version of David Bowie. Duncan’s lyrics are gentle and wistful and suffused with hope. He can put you in a moment with lines like “On a day like this you get into your car and drive like mad. ... A day like this is worth a million dollars easy,” or raise a smile from the most jaded with one like “Everybody needs someone to believe in / Jesus or the English Beat.”

When Duncan lived in Fort Worth, he used to ride his bike through Trinity Park, up the hill on Taylor Street. He’s still climbing.


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