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Noel Stephen & the Darlings: Ten Years Too Late

Self-released

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Young Atlanta group Noel Stephen & the Darlings crafts the kind of un-ironic rococo pop that winks at its musical forefathers (Serge Gainsbourg, Rufus Wainwright) while concurrently, and proudly, declaring its independence. The band's first album, Ten Years Too Late, has a very appropriate first-album feel. The production is inconsistent, vocalists trade off from song to song, and the band has a stylistic tendency to veer rather wildly back and forth from barroom country to the baroque and beyond. But there's a sweetness to the Darlings' blue-eyed approach, an honesty that's missing from most new music, that saves Ten Years Too Late from itself. Likewise, certain unanticipated moments - the dramatic downshift halfway through "Your Scarf," for instance - flirt with profundity. The Darlings' best moments are certainly ahead of them, but this altogether solid debut should prove a fine jumping-off point. (3 out of 5 stars)

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