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Self Help Serenade Domestic Only

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Critics' Reviews

amg review
Self Help Serenade hit the U.K. in spring 2004, so it's been released domestically on a plush critical pillow, with bulbous sticker quotes bursting with words like "genius" and "classic." That's overstating it a little bit. Evan Slamka, the brains behind the band Marjorie Fair, has definitely written a pleasant collection of songs. They reflect the dusky light of his L.A. home, and his dream girl's figure is forever silhouetted against the sunset. But Serenade can't be marked a "classic" just because it taps classic pop elements (like the Beach Boys, for one; its album art even suggests Endless Summer), or because its contributors include crack session players Jim Keltner, Joey Waronker, and Kim Bullard, the piano and B3 of Billy Preston on the gentle "Hold on to You," and the work of Jon Brion, who's credited with "various custom sounds." No, Marjorie Fair's debut is just a pretty thing falling somewhere between singer/songwriter indulgence and clever chamber pop. "Empty Room" is an immediate standout. In lesser hands it'd be akin to John Mayer, but Slamka and his mates give it palpable depth and an unforgettable chorus. It's also the most upbeat thing here besides "Waves," and it's not even that upbeat. That's because Slamka prefers the slight twang in the waltzing "Silver Gun,"; he gives songs names like "My Sun Is Setting Over Her Magic." The snare drum in "Halfway House" is set to slow, and each piano chord resonates for a hundred years. It's an homage to sensitive '70s Northern California, but the contemporary era comes crashing in with a screeching solo of treated guitar. Same goes for "How Can You Laugh." It's beguiling like "Surfer Girl," but looks to the legacy of Pavement at the same time. So Marjorie Fair's debut isn't an immediate five-star classic. But its backgrounds are incredibly well-crafted (just look at that contributor list), and the songs' blend evening-sun comfort with a quiet forlornness that's somehow welcoming. ~ Johnny Loftus, Rovi
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