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"Review of 'Amiel'"

*** (3 stars out of 5)

Joined by just a few friends, Amiel produced this array of folky California pop songs with a healthy dose of the Beatles and XTC in mind, not to mention a few whiffs of bossa nova and soundtrack atmospherics. The talk is of love, loss, and fairly well-gauged front porch metaphysics; the appropriately whimsical music is often peppered with both electronic and acoustic elements (vibraphone, accordion, etc.) to evoke this world of dreamy reality. Leadoff track "Lady She" sets the tone for what is at least half an album's worth of strong material: The song's deceptively lightweight frame never drags things into the wan doldrums, compliments of strong guy-gal harmonies, mobile synth and rhythm hooks, and perfectly timed slide guitar accents. The same goes for equally compact and jangly pieces like "Rise Above," the dulcimer-driven instrumental "Scenario," and noir-ambient "Brittle Bones." But the preciousness of it all goes awry on such anemically conceived offerings as "Friend of a Friend," "Simply Suited," and "The Weatherman" - there's even a stab at some pop-reggae on "Morning Star," with predictably dire results. Fans of the new pop breed, though, will have much to shout about, thanks to what is generally a fetching collection that's best appreciated sans memories of the Fab Four and Brian Wilson's prime." - [Stephen Cook]

"Review of 'Accidents by Design'"

I once got locked out of my dorm room for listening to music like this. I swear. I used to play Gilbert O'Sullivan, the Archies, Percy Faith even (the album with his versions of Beatles songs), as I clacka-clacka-clackad on my portable electric typewriter (with magical backspace erase key) well into the night, typing (I was an English major with a concentration in creative writing), creating, making the magic happen, a sandwich stuffed with Carl Buddig meats, some chips, and a soda by my side, while my next door neighbor, an accounting major, studied numbers.

My parents had given me their Lafayette tube stereo (it eventually caught on fire, right there in front of me), and on it I played the kind of music that would irritate my roommate to no discernible end. I was definitely the odd man out when it came to music, at least among the other guys living on my floor, 75 percent of whom were members of the ZBT fraternity. They were nice enough guys, I guess, until they got drunk, or when it was hazing week.

Hazing. Ah, it brings back such warm memories...warm like if you were sitting on a hot burner to prove you could withstand pain so you could become a fraternity brother. Oh, I remember the stunts: closing your eyes and swallowing raw eggs and being told they were worms, being stripped of your clothes and driven into town, thrown out of the car wearing only your underwear, and having to get back to your dorm without being arrested. I remember those times like they were yesterday, but not because I experienced them first-hand. Oh no, for I was a house plan guy. The house plan experience was radically different from the fraternity variety. We had meetings, we paid dues, we went to IHOP, we went to the movies. That was about it. Oh, we played softball, too.

We also listened to music, but who didn't? Believe me when I tell you that, on my floor, my kind of music was not in vogue. The big album of the time was Led Zeppelin IV, the one with the worst song ever recorded, "Stairway to Heaven." Hey, you: Shut up. I can't help it; maybe it's because they played it on the radio every half hour, or maybe it's just because the lyrics are so stupid. I don't know. I just don't like the damn song. I do, however, like the rest of the album, particularly "Black Dog" and "Rock 'n' Roll." (I'm a rocker at heart.)

But "Stairway to Heaven" was the song, and those ZBT guys all seemed to have a copy of it, and they seemed to always be playing it at about the same time, so there was this cacophony of Zeppelin that seemed to bounce off the walls and, let me tell you, it was hard to take. I mean, it was just about the hardest thing to take in the world, and harder still to play "Sugar, Sugar" at top volume and be able to hear it over those hedgerows, in case you don't know.

I kind of got a reputation for playing goofy, bubblegum music, and I got made fun of at every turn, but I stood tall and took it like a man. Yes, indeed: I stood up for Gilbert and Percy like they were members of my own family. And one time, I got locked out of my room for my trouble. There I was, in the hall in front of my room, trying to get in, with no luck, and all of a sudden it came: the sound of needles being plunked down on vinyl and the immortal sounds of, coming from just about every room on the floor. Well, what was I to do, but laugh along with the ZBT guys, wait until they'd had their fun, and then unleash my revenge by playing something sweet and sugary at top volume, which, of course, I didn't do; my puny Lafayette tube stereo could barely fill my room with sound, much less the entire floor.

I relive the aforementioned humiliation to give hope to those of you who are currently attending college and living in a dorm, who like music that your floor mates think is a little, well, goofy. I give hope to you, because our kind of music rules and you should be proud of that. In a perfect world, music like the kind that gives us goose bumps would rule the airwaves and dorm rooms. So, in this imperfect world, let us simply celebrate the soft and melodic. Let the sweet and harmonic wash over us.

Which brings me to Amiel (pronounced Ahhhh-me-ul), a bespectacled fellow from Tenafly, New Jersey, whose grasp of the essence of soft, sweet, melody-drenched, harmony-buoyed music is practically without peer. I mean, just listen to 30 seconds of this incredible album and tell me what you think.

Amiel's bio lists XTC, the Beatles, Os Mutantes, Stereolab and Nick Drake as some of his favorite artists, so you might expect some kind of Brazilian-Swindonian-Beatlesque-electronic-folk hybrid, but that's not at all what this is. What it is, is an easy listening-sixties soft pop meeting-of-the-minds sporting a sometimes folky, electronic gloss. It's nothing less than the perfect soundtrack for a summer's day outing. It's largely performed by Amiel, it was recorded in Sao Paulo, New York and the aforementioned Tenafly, and it's simply, wholly wonderful.

From the opening Beach Boys-meets-the Free Design bouncy harmony-rich "Circles," awash in appropriately circling harmonies, bouncy percussion and Smile-era strings, to the closing, Parisian-flavored, playful instrumental "Postponed Raindates," Amiel creates sound landscapes that will send chills up your spine and put a wide smile on your face. A panoply of instrumentation, a variety of styles, and Amiel's entrancing, soft-pop vocals make this music come alive.

The magic of Amiel is in the construction of these infectious creations. Brilliantly arranged, they are populated, at their base, with just the right measure of guitar, keyboard, and percussion. This music breathes. The use of strings and various other instruments, such as banjo, bells, theremin and bird sounds (on the delightful, playful, drawing-room song "Mannequin"), is quite effective. The sound fields are generous and wide; instruments sound as though they're coming from all over the room. And the recording is sumptuous and accomplished; every note is crystal clear, with a healthy, tight bottom end always in evidence and the highs always crisp and sharp.

The writing is romantic, in the way that the songs wrap around your head, pulsing your imagination into gear as the songs play out. It just feels so good to be listening to this music. It all seems so effortless, but, of course, it isn't.

The gorgeous instrumental "Listening is Easy," a sly play on words, is perhaps redolent of the music that is in Amiel's heart. A casual, slightly-samba-esque rhythm, punctuated by bells, slide guitar accents, and horn sounds, encompasses the listener, ringing true from first note to last. It's an amazing track, and it packs a lot of punch in eight seconds shy of three-and-a-half minutes.

There is plenty more that is amazing about Accidents by Design, not the least of which is Amiel's use of guest female vocalists who provide a sweet counterpoint to the proceedings. Marcie's vocal on the upbeat, keyboard-dominated "Always All or Nothing" comes to mind, and so does Shivika Asthana's wonderful performance on the beautiful "This Way, That Way"; her breathy vocals on the opening verses are contrasted by the up-front approach that follows. The moment that breathy gives way to up-front, when Asthana sings "When will I see you the way that you are?/When will I see you with your new heart?", and the bass and percussion kick in is an incredibly sensual moment. It gets me every time.

Most effective when played all the way through, but just as good when played song by song, Accidents by Design joins Fritz Doddy's The Feeling of Far as another top-flight example of melodic music created by design, with feeling, and from the heart. What you get from this music is really invaluable. Play it in your dorm room, or at home, at your next summer picnic, but play it, play it loud..and play it soft. Turn your fellow human persons on to Tenafly's Amiel. It's up to you, because, when it comes to music like this, there are no accidents.

Alan Haber
May 17, 2005

- Buhdge


* "Figures Seeking Ground" (LP) released in 2008
* "Accidents By Design" (LP) released in 2005
* "Amiel" (LP) released in 2000



Throughout his development as a songwriter and producer, Amiel's ears digested many sounds from around the world, all of which left an indelible imprint on his music. On any given song, you can hear traces of: Sunshine Pop, Bossa-Nova, Electronic Soundscapes, French Ye Ye, Indian Raga, Psychedelic Folk, Progressive Rock, and Classical Minimalism and Impressionism. At its core, his music strives for beauty and complexity while coming across as simple and effortless.

A native of New Jersey/New York (by way of Germany), Amiel started off playing and recording in his friend's father's converted dental office. Dozens of 4-track tapes later, Amiel decided to record a proper album in 1998. Released in 2000, Amiel’s self-titled debut album contains 12 songs that first showcase his innate songwriting talents. 2005 saw the release of Amiel’s follow-up album, ACCIDENTS BY DESIGN. A production that took over three years to create, this 20-song collection is the first body of work to really draw upon all of Amiel’s vast array of influences. Despite the wide variety, it all holds together in a certain unique and unified way. The upcoming 2008 release of Amiel’s third album, FIGURES SEEKING GROUND, does even more to draw in the listener with its rich textures and unexpected instrumentation. Almost every song features a different female guest vocalist, all of whom interpret Amiel’s songs wonderfully.

Aside from these three albums, Amiel's music can be heard elsewhere:

* "Circles" (from ACCIDENTS BY DESIGN) was recently featured in a television commercial promoting the News 12 Cable Network. It was aired on channels such as Comedy Central, CNN and A&E.

* A short snippet from the song "Mannequin" (from ACCIDENTS BY DESIGN) is featured in six webisodes promoting Microsoft's XBOX 360. It can be heard during the brief opening credits:

* Two songs from ACCIDENTS BY DESIGN ("Where Time Moves Slower" and "How Do I Come Across?”) are featured in an independent film entitled SEND IN THE CLOWN. For more information about the film, please visit:

* "Between Locators" (from ACCIDENTS BY DESIGN) was used in a corporate video promoting the Perez Trading Company.

You can catch Amiel playing live in NYC venues such as Moe Pitkins, Pete’s Candy Store, and the Knitting Factory.