Only a few months into its proper existence, Faster Circuits, the new psych-pop project from longtime Elephant 6 collaborator (and noted studio engineer) Derek Almstead, has established itself as a group to watch on the local scene. That's thanks in no small part to the mazelike Tunes of Glory, the group's tremendous debut album, which emerged seemingly out of nowhere this past June.
Put simply, there's a lot to like here. Despite the obvious studio pains taken in the years-long making of Tunes of Glory—the sound almost smells vintage—most of the album's appeal lies in the songwriting. Almstead shows off his immaculate melodic chops on tunes like "Relative Obscurity," which shows shades of the Olivia Tremor Control but reads its 1960s source material less strictly. (For my money, it's the best song on the record.) But it's not all psych-pop exploration: Almstead strips down for "Festival Echoes," a stirring piano ballad, and also gets otherworldly on electronic outings like "Snake Terrain," whose brilliant textural contrasts call to mind both Stereolab and Oneohtrix Point Never.
The 37-minute record does feature the occasional filler piece ("Non Dynamic Stroller" and "Canine Jazz Test" are interesting, if ineffectual, tracks). But overall, for all its indulgences, it's streamlined to pop near-perfection. The danger with albums written and recorded by studio-minded folk is that they often fall prey to a sort of navel-gazing that renders them lifeless and cold. But damn if Tunes of Glory ain't one of the loveliest, most vibrant, most ecstatic records of 2013 so far. 4 out of 5.
Faster Circuits plays the Caledonia Lounge on Friday, Sept. 13.