With a Mediterranean sounding name like Lenola and a release on an Italian label, you may think Lenola originates from Southern Europe. The truth is certainly less exotic since the band has its roots in New Jersey. The name "Lenola" actually refers to a former section of Moorestown, NJ where the lead singer and guitarist Jay Laughlin grew up.
This double CD release is Lenola's 5th full length release since their inception in 1994 and is also their last one since the band officially broke up early this year when Sean Byrne (drummer and co-writer) decided to leave the band. It is dedicated to Skip Candelori, a good friend of the band who passed away when completing the record.
"Sharks and Flames" seems like a fateful title and there is an interesting story behind it. "The title first came to us in the spring of 2001, long before we decided it would be a double-CD. The title came from seeing a commercial for an ice hockey game between the "Sharks" and the "Flames" and the juxtaposition of the 2 words kind of stuck and we just liked it. Strange thing is, then that summer there were a lot of shark attacks on the East Coast, and then in Sept. of 2001, there were the flames of course. So, it just worked out in that weird way and we stuck with the title." --Jay Laughlin
Lenola's sound combines the psych rock elements of the Beatles, the layered guitars of My Bloody Valentine, guitar solos reminding me of Smackmelon's brilliant solo guitar in Spaceshot, and the melodies and harmonies of Matt Pond PA or even Simpatico. All songs have a very solid construction. The tracks that especially appeal to me typically start with an acoustic guitar riff slowly building up to a fuller and luscious sound as distorted guitar is added. Guitar riffs and solos further come to ornament the song in the same way as you would decorate a Christmas tree. What makes these more memorable are some infectious keyboard loops. They are mostly upbeat, hopeful and generally warm. Jay's boyish voice and harmonies definitely contribute to a very pleasant listening experience.
A few highlights among the 20 songs:
- My favorite (as well as Jay's) is Sudden Stop, a perfect blend of hope and light nostalgia and one of their more indie/dream pop songs. This track is infused with such powerful optimism it makes you, no matter how bad you may feel, instantaneously feel good. The lyrics "I'm born again" further describes the power of this song to make all these strong desires hidden inside you come back to light. Who doesn't want to feel like a Superman?
- Gentlemen Overboard is an indie-pop gem with soaring happiness and lots of energy! You will love this if you are into Radio Department or the Aislers Set.
- As Far As I Can Throw You (one of Sean Byrne's favorite songs) is a softer dream-pop lullaby type song with some of my favorite Lenola's signature elements: the infectious keyboard loop (0'38) and a tasteful guitar solo (2'05)
- Speed of Light has the same attractive elements but with a quicker pace.
- Impossible is a sad beautiful love song. You can't help but pay attention to the lyrics.
- Fake Vegetables has a perfect introductory guitar riff and an overall feel that will put you in a good mood early morning
- In Traffic Lights and Standing Still, you can definitely hear the influences of the Flaming Lips.
- Wipe My Mouth, with its 1960's organ element, sounds like it could have been written by the Trembling Blue Stars.
- Poor Little Boy is a continuous juxtaposition of guitar riffs and mini solos.
- Shallow and Often is an acoustic-indie-pop song a la Belle and Sebastian.
'Sharks and Flames' is a solid album that grows on you after each listen. A double CD that is a melting pot of indie rock sounds, drawing on many notable and varied influences. With 'Sharks and Flames', Lenola gives us an extremely pleasing and respectable parting gift.
The only consolation for this farewell is that Lenola's aficionados can now follow two bands: Garden State and The Twin Atlas, Jay's latest and Sean's continued respective projects. Stay tuned!