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AMERICAN DOLLAR (Buy CDs by this artist)
The American Dollar (self-released) 2006

Despite the name, the American Dollar isn't all about bang for your buck. Rather, New Yorkers Rich Cupolo (keyboards, guitar, bass) and John Emanuele (drums, bass, keyboard) favor an understated blend of organic and electronic sounds, crafting evocative instrumentals with a strong melodic sense. The duo's self-titled debut balances textured atmospheric explorations with more purposeful, propulsive compositions that boast a broader instrumental reach. The strongest material ("Cambian," "Separate but Equal," "Thompson") tends toward the minimalist end of the spectrum, beatless moodscapes fashioned from electronic swaths that slowly unfurl and hang like smoke in the air. Elsewhere, Cupolo and Emanuele expand their approach, supplementing hazy, shimmering ambience with guitars, percussion and digital beats (the piano-centric "Glow," "Twelve Days Awake," "War on Christmas") to gradually add momentum and intensity. This aspect of the American Dollar's sound has several antecedents: it recalls the austerity of Explosions in the Sky, it suggests a colorized, less angst-ridden Godspeed You! Black Emperor and even evokes Mogwai in one of their rare pretty moments. But while those bands take listeners on multifaceted, visceral sonic odysseys, some of the American Dollar's ambitious excursions are less engaging and slightly too clean, often leaning toward a pop sensibility, lacking the necessary tension, gravitas and dynamism.

[Wilson Neate]