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Twelve Thousand Armies' North Carolina 

(Drughorse)

Since releasing The Mirth These Days on Charlotte's MoRisen Records in 2005, Justin Williams—the Queen City expat who fronted MoRisen rockers The Talk while self-recording his dreamy pop nuggets as Twelve Thousand Armies—mostly disappeared. He's recently resurfaced in Carrboro, aligning himself with fellow vintage-pop enthusiasts of the Drughorse collective. North Carolina—the 12-track follow-up to Mirth—benefits from the affiliation. The work of in-house producer Jeff Crawford, for instance, uses sedate orchestral splendor to add a haze to the songs' general estival atmosphere.

Opener "A Swim," for instance, drips with watery organ, Williams singing of taking a dip to escape the South's hundred-degree weather. Tambourine, slide guitar and banged piano chords soundtrack Williams' top-down elation on "Darling Let's Breathe," while Williams leverages a trumpeted melody, glockenspiel accents and Hal Blaine-like stuttering percussion to brighten the album's most immediate track, the sunny and warm "After All We're People."

"Silver Lake in Bloom" is a languid, horn-embellished shuffle, but its chronicles of bittersweet California dreams hint at the shadows behind so much light. Though Williams celebrates the joys of a classic summer—swimming, skating, swigs and swigs of alcohol—he rues the ephemerality of seasonal flings and fleeting friendships. Despite post-breakup self-pity on "With the Leaves," Williams playfully dismisses the dejection caused by his ex's rejection. But this soul-baring half, diametrically opposed to the carefree sing-alongs, shows Williams is more than just a party animal. On closing track "Pardon the Earthquake," Williams even confesses his "happiness is way too fucking fake." We've enjoyed being fooled, at least.

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