Go to a Wembley show, and the Hillsborough quartet will give you a copy of its first LP—packaged economically in a white paper sleeve and stamped on Sharpied CD-R—for free. Go to the band's Web site (music.abandcalledwembley.com), and they'll give you their follow-up EP, the excellent new Keywords for Robots, for free, too. Oh, well: At least they're actually selling this one in stores.
If there's to be a criticism of Wembley's casually released discography, it's that something—perhaps it's the lack of an ego and the presence of false modesty or the belief that music best not be sold—limits the band's "seriousness" and so limits how often we end up with batches of pop songs this smart, considered and well-executed in our hands. Much like the current kings of deliberate-and-dashing pop-rock, Spoon, Wembley tweaks its songs just so, using arrangement and engineering decisions to amplify the emotional effect of the tunes. On opener "Five Deadly Venoms," for instance, a thin stream of noise floats beneath discordant piano and unsettled bass line. Suddenly, everything jerks into place, though, and frontman Neven J. Carswell jaunts in, sounding perturbed but prepossessed by cool, debating his place in the world—to float high or stay grounded. The band keeps it steady, letting him ponder out loud before pushing him to the only logical conclusion—a fierce guitar solo or the sound of confusion and indecision. Catharsis by proxy.
And there's the wondrous "Shipwreck," which burns like the first furnace of fall. Gilded by the guest pedal steel work of Chatham County Line's Greg Readling and navigated by the romantic sweep of Elizabeth Hull's piano, the song is soft first. It steadily grows into a sturdy heat, the piano and drums slapping at a glow of washed-out guitar and synthesizer. It's the perfect sort of uneasy reverie that's rarely mastered, especially on a part-time basis.