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By Thierry Côté
Let’s get something out of the way: Joe Lapinski sounds a lot like Martin Tielli. In fact, he often sounds so much like Tielli — particularly two minutes into the opening song, when he breaks into an arresting falsetto — that you could easily mistake The Beauty Beyond for a new effort by that idiosyncratic vocalist, one that blends the unconventional art-pop of the Rheostatics’ Melville or Whale Music with the jaunty Americana of latter-day Wilco. Lapinski does not shy away from his influences, either: former Rheostatics drummer Dave Clark assists on production duties, and “Kite Meets Blu Skye” recalls the pastoral folk-rock of Sky Blue Sky in both title and sound.
It would be easy to dismiss The Beauty Beyond as the work of a gifted mimic if it weren’t for the quality of the songs, which are at once structurally complex and effortlessly melodic. The title track, “I Will Stay” and “You!” are all multipart suites bursting with subtle hooks, while “Rock/Mountain,” featuring Whitney Peterson and Laurel Minnes (Whitney Pea) on harmonies, climaxes with a wistful, cinematic back-and-forth between Lapinski’s accordion and Jason Kennemy’s piano. Lapinski is also an evocative and inventive guitarist, capable of delivering a fluid solo in sharp contrast with the jarringly distorted chords that open “Find Your Home,” or adding colour to the delicate instrumental closer “Morning” with dreamy pedal steel fills.
To sound like one of Canada’s finest singers is no bad thing, particularly if you can produce a work that stands on its own merits, which The Beauty Beyond certainly does.