Album: Robert Gomez <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Brand New Towns, BELLA UNION
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The Independent Culture

It's strange how the virus of musical creativity seems to pass from town to town, infecting artists in one location before shifting randomly to somewhere else. One month, Reykjavik or Athens, Georgia is the searing cauldron of rock'n'roll; the next, it's Portland, Oregon or Omaha, Nebraska.

At the moment, the two undisputed hotbeds of pop power are Sheffield and Toronto, both spawning a seemingly endless string of exciting new acts. And, the way things are going, the small town of Denton in Texas looks set to be the next Sheffield, with a growing roster of talent spearheaded by Lift to Experience, Midlake and, now, the genre-dodging genius of Robert Gomez.

A cursory listen to the opening "Closer Still" is enough to confirm Gomez's potential, and the idiosyncratic approach that seems to avoid any specific form, darting nimbly between styles but settling on none. Everything seems wrong, but so wrong it's a new kind of right: the guitar figures are at an odd angle to the streaks of violin, and the horn punctuation uneasy with both, while the groove that starts out pert and chipper shifts into a more slippery, slurred state, effecting the subtlest change of rhythmic emphasis. Likewise, the guitar break in "The Same Sad Song" seems off-key, but in an interesting, rather than irritating, way.

These peculiarities may be traceable to Gomez's unusual musical education, which includes six months on the road with Barnum & Bailey's Circus; tours of Europe, Asia Minor and America as part of Turkish musician Omar Faruk Tekbilek's band; and a period learning tres (Cuban guitar) with the maestro Nelson Gonzales. Add an obvious interest in psychedelia, indie rock, pop and, judging by the fuzz accordion riffs that dominate several tracks, French hurdy-gurdy and melodeon music, and you have a sonic character that's virtually impossible to define.

With vibes, strings and woodwind making appearances, and Gomez's feathery croon layered into warm harmonies, the results can sound like a minimalist Palm Court Orchestra, or folk music gently deflowered by pop, or Pink Floyd relocated to Paris - but most of all like Gomez's label-mates Midlake: there's the same warmth and mystery, an affinity for oblique melodies, and similarly sumptuous production. The lyrics, when they're decipherable, seem mainly about squandered relationships and unrequited desires, stressing the singer's unworthiness ("You're so perfect/ Without me") and ham-fisted inadequacy. But it's the arrangements that make Brand New Towns special, and secure its position as the first truly great album of the year.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Closer Still", "All We Got", "The Same Sad Song", "Mistress"