April March records don’t arrive as often these days as they did in the late ’90s, but the quality remains
As much as Record Store Day can draw people to their local stores (a good thing), it can also mean long lines and getting shut out on getting one of a limited amount of copies of what you were hoping to buy.
Such was the case last year when In Cinerama, a new April March album, was only released as a small-run, vinyl-only RSD-exclusive.
The album’s now more widely available, thanks to Omnivore Recordings for picking it up.
Her records don’t arrive as often these days as they did in the late ’90s, but the quality remains.
Artist: April March
Album: ln Cinerama
Label: Omnivore Recordings
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
The title itself is a retro throwback. Cinerama, which debuted in the ’50s, was, in its initial incarnation, a widescreen movie system in which a movie, shot simultaneously on three cameras with one shutter. The movie would be shown on a curved screen using three projectors.
Basically impractical for full-length features (only two were shot for it in that original format), adaptations were made, it never attained widespread use. It was, in spirit if not technique, a precursor to the modern IMAX.
One of the venues that showed it, which went on to become a beloved Los Angeles theater, was the Cinerama Dome, which is the actual inspiration for the title.
March pulls off a neat trick with producer and writer Mehdi Zannad (he handled all of the music), being unabashedly retro in a specific fashion, without it coming off as a collection of musical museum pieces.
The twin touchstones of ’60s girl groups of the U.S. and the Yé-Yé girls of ’60s France are present, along with a host of other influences, some of which Zannad has displayed on his Fugu albums.
One of the not-so-secret weapons here is the presence of the late Tony Allen, known by many as the father of Afrobeat for his work as the drummer and musical director Fela Kuti’s of band Africa ’70 from 1968-79. Allen is known to newer audiences for his work with Gorillaz.
In Cinerama, recorded before the pandemic, is one of the final works to feature Allen, who passed away in April 2020 at the age of 79. Allen is as deft as ever here with beats and fills, always present, but never obtrusive.
Take “Rolla Rolla”, where Allen throws in some subtle non-Western rhythms under a coating of ’70s-style synths. March takes to it as easily as she would to a member of the Wrecking Crew. On “Open Your Window Romeo,” the rhythms are squarely set in 1960s France, its strings set in the studio pop of a decade later.
The tone of the album is set right off the bat with “Lift Off”, which recalls the breezy indie pop of like-minded revivalists Ivy from the ’90s, coated in gorgeous harmonies.
It isn’t the last time those harmonies will appear. Just as having Allen as drummer was an excellent choice for March and Zannad, so too was enlisting Petra Haden, Rachel Haden, Lola Kirke, Benett Rogers and Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford for the backing vocals.
The harmonies take a plane to Southern California for “Elinor Blue”, which has echoes of late ’60s/early ’70s Beach Boys, with gliding strings thrown in for good measure.
“Runaway”, one of Zannad’s two solo compositions, is a lovely blend of girl group and ’60s Europop.
“Baby”, Zannad’s other sol- composition, is one of the album’s highlights. March sweetly sings this melodic gem, complete with tasteful guitar and a string section that’s the perfect frosting on this confection.
The performance and production is nicely calibrated throughout. Too light and it threatens to evaporate the moment you finish listening. Too aggressive and its more subtle charms get lost. No need to break into Three Bears’ house here. This gets it just right.
For all its reference points from a distant trip in the Wayback Machine, In Cinerama underscores how those points have made their way through aspects of pop, indie and otherwise, since they appeared originally.
“Ride or Divide”, when that chorus kicks in, sounds for all the world like a would be-breakout hit for a multiverse Bangles emerging from the Paisley Underground.
The acoustic strum and ringing verse guitars of closing track “Born” could have come from so many of your appealing indie pop faves of the last decade.
The late 60s/early’70s vibe returns, thanks to a cover from a soundtrack that produced a couple of hits, starting in 1971.
The title track to “Bless the Beasts and Children”, the B-side to “Superstar” was an adult contemporary hit for the Carpenters. Five years later, use of the instrumental “Cotton’s Theme” in ABC’s 1976 Summer Olympics coverage led to the song, retitled “Nadia’s Theme” (for Romanian gymnast and Olympic champion Nadia Comăneci) being a Top 10 hit.
March turns in a straightforward cover of “Down the Line,” with her lead vocals, along with the backing behind her, giving it more oomph than the original.
Going later into the ’70s, “Californian Fall”, from its electric piano opening to its harmony-drenched outro, sounds like a dispatch from the Land of AM Gold.
The bonus version adds two extra cuts — both Zannad compositions. “Goodbye” is charmingly lovely. “Friends Peculiar” goes back to the point where you expect March to be singing in French again, as she’s done many times throughout her career (including on 2021’s winning Palladium EP with Olivia Jean).
In Cinerama isn’t so much a recreation or restoration of earlier influences, but a new work put together with joy, craft, production and songwriting smarts from old blueprints. Like chefs putting their own spin on a classic without completely deconstructing it, March and Zannad utilize fresh ingredients for their own recipe.
The result is that they pull off another trick — making music that’s sweet without being so cloying and rich that you’ll hate yourself in the morning.
In Cinerama is testament to the fact that over 25 years into her consistently good music career, March, with a little help from her friends, is still capable of producing an album with influences as wide as a Cinerama screen. It’s up there with any of her best work.
It was worth the wait.