Floating Opera

Burning Lighthouse Reviews

From Smother.net, by J-Sin (editor's pick)

Packed with complex lyrics that always tell a tale sometimes sad and sometimes joyous, Floating Opera`s latest offering is a jamming art rock medley. Based in Lincoln, Nebraska among an indie scene that is really taking to bloom, Floating Opera can boast 30 different musicians that have recorded with them. Pretty impressive eh? But what's more impressive is the twelve tracks that can really brag about complex song arrangements, wonderful melodies that soar in and out of range, and a knack for just offshoot catchiness. The vocals alone could easily make this a favorite but it doesn`t brake there instead excelling in areas often overlooked like production, engineering, and arrangements. While Floating Opera is firmly embraced in the indie pop circuit they also can garner some support with their folk and acoustic rock affinities. Amazing.

Aiding and Abetting by Jon Worley:

Hard to believe that Floating Opera has been around for more than 10 years. A collection of musical castaways in Lincoln, Neb., the "band" started as the collaboration of Charles Lieurance (lyrics) and Richard Rebarber (music). The pair recruited vocalists like Lori Allison (the Millions) and Heidi Ore (Mercy Rule), members of the aforementioned bands and other crack players. Rebarber is a math professor at the University of Nebraska (you can even read his papers on the web site!), and his music is pleasantly mannered. It's also exceptionally complex and enthralling. He manages to whip up a glorious order from the mess of voices and instruments that populate each song.

And the songs are hardly repetitive. All of the piecess do fit into nicely into the "crafted pop" world, but Rebarber likes to stretch himself. And so the moods of the songs rise and fall. Lieurance's lyrics are intimately detached, if that makes any sense. The subjects of the songs seem to be aware of the song being written. Does that make sense? Probably not.

So ignore all the silly crap I've written so far and read this: Floating Opera creates music that is impossible to forget. I've been listening to these folks since 1997, and every person I've turned on to the band has fallen in love. These folks are proof that magic is very real, indeed.

The Musician's Homepage, August 10, 2003

Starting to tackle the ever-growing pile of demo CDs on my desk, beginning with Floating Opera's new CD "Burning Lighthouse". Check it out if you're a fan of "smart pop" like Magentic Fields, The Delgados, Ben Folds, etc.

Floating Opera is about as appropriate a name as one could ask for. Rather then a band with set members, Floating Opera is a music collective which has enlisted the talents of some 30+ artists, all centered around the writing skills of Charles Lieurance and Richard Rebarber. This flexibility in instrumentation allows for songwriting which cuts across genres, including elements of jazz, pop, folk, and even the rock anthem. I was reminded of Magnetic Fields "69 Love Songs", which similarly applies a common musical craftsmanship across a number of music styles.

The vocal work is distributed between Lori Allison, Chris Wilson, and Heidi Ore. Lori Allison's voice has an almost whispy quality to it, and is a pleasure to listen to. Chris Wilson has a very complimentary voice to Lori's, although it is a bit throatier. Heidi Ore has a strong voice, giving her vocals a bit more power, but without the lilting quality of Lori and Chris.

Behind these vocals is a tapestry of sounds woven from any variety of piano, percussion, electric and acoustic bass, electric and acoustic guitar, keyboards, saxophone, trumpet, violin, and cello. The music can be deceptively simple, with rather complex arrangements woven so tightly that it takes repeated listens to discern all the separate pieces. The lyrics follow a similar pattern - providing the same slice-of-life lyricism as folk music.

Burning Lighthouse is Floating Opera's third release (not including an initial self-titled cassette). Richard Rebarber handled the production of the CD, and production values for the most part are high. My only complaint would be that the electric guitars would sometimes get a bit buried - creating moments where there's a bit of a "gulf" present between the vocals and the accompaniment. This was rare though, and not particularly distracting (I just like to nit-pick).

Floating Opera falls into that oft-elusive category known as "smart pop". You have the catchy hooks and grand choruses you'd expect of a pop song, but you don't have to check your brain at the door while listening. There's a level of sophistication to the songwriting that makes it a pleasure to pick out the strands that make up each piece of music. It's not surprising that the list of artists contributing to this project reads like a who's who of Midwestern indie rock - this is a top notch CD and one worth giving a listen.

Selected Songs: Crushed Velvet - Catchy opening tune. Some similarities to The Delgados here. The backing vocals are really lush. Ocean - I really liked Lori's vocals on this track - a moving and deceptively straight-forward piano ballad. Doorways - Didn't really like the solo sax work on this, but then I've never been a fan of saxaphones outside of the Coltrane school of jazz. Other then that, this is a cool little jazzy tune with contrasting ballad-style vocals. A transition that defies expectations is what makes this track really shine though. Agnes in Furs - Some of the tracks, this one in particular, remind me of Ben Folds - the background vocals and chorus in particular. A key difference though is that here the piano is relegated entirely to an accompanying role. Anyway, great chorus, one of the catchier ones on the CD.

The Daily Vault, 7/31/2003, by Sean McCarthy

Like a decent bottle of wine, you're not too sure exactly how to enjoy Floating Opera's latest release, Burning Lighthouse. Because the album will likely contain the most lush and musically gorgeous textures you will hear this year, part of you wants to let it linger in your CD player at home for maximum enjoyment, much like swishing wine around in a glass and sniffing it, instead of drinking it from the bottle. However, Burning Lighthouse contains enough rocking moments to make it an ideal soundtrack for a late summer drive.

Floating Opera formed initially as a side project Mercy Rule and the Millions, two bands from Lincoln, Nebraska who each scored a major-label release in the '90s. While both bands hung up their guitars later in that decade, Floating Opera continued to record. Since forming in 1993, the band has had more than 30 musicians circulate in and out of the studio during their ten-year career (sort of like the way Queens of the Stone Age record their albums, only with lush harmonies and pop orchestration).

On the surface, Burning Lighthouse almost sounds too gorgeous to criticize. The complex musical orchestration automatically conjures comparisons to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds era as well as Elvis Costello's more sophisticated recordings. The storytelling in most of the songs feels like a collection of short stories in a literary magazine. The album even has an alternative version to one of their tracks to close out the album, giving it a thematic, albeit slightly contrived, overall feel.

There are moments where the lavish musical ornamentation of Burning Lighthouse threaten to careen the band off into pretentiousness. However, the percussion (shared duties by Ron Albertson and Paul Tisdale) and crunching guitar work by Jon Taylor usually produce enough of a thunder to rattle your speakers. If that wasn't enough, members of the New York hardcore experimental act Liars pop in for an appearance.

Some of the most immediately appealing songs on Burning Lighthouse develop when the hard rock chops of the band mesh with pop orchestration. "Believer," a song that has the feel of one of Led Zeppelin's sweeping epics, is a perfect example of the band's ability to effortlessly fuse different styles together without sounding like a novelty. Lori Allison's vocals are able to mold into whatever style Floating Opera pursues on this disc. It also helps that Heidi Ore lends her pipes to some of the more uptempo tracks, such as "Agnes in Furs" and "Shapes I Brought Back With Me." At times, Burning Lighthouse sounds like it's too sophisticated to be enjoyed as a good rock album. Yet, after a few listens, the pop melodies are as irresistible and catchy as some of the poppiest tracks on radio. Fortunately, Burning Lighthouse is sweet enough to have you craving seconds without giving you a toothache.

Lincoln Journal-Star, by L. Kent Wolgamott

Over the last decade, Floating Opera, the music collective organized by composer/keyboardist Richard Rebarber, has created some of the best records made in Lincoln.

Such is the case with "Burning Lighthouse," its fourth and most sophisticated release.

Of course, it helps that Floating Opera is made up of some of Lincoln's most accomplished musicians. Among them are: singer Lori Allison, who, if there was any justice, would be a star outside her hometown, guitarist JonTaylor, bassist David Boye and drummers PaulTisdale and Ron Albertson -- all of whom have been members of some of Lincoln's best bands of the '80s and '90s

While they've made their own nationally acclaimed music as members of The Millions, Mercy Rule and Charlie Burton and the Cut Outs, the Floating Opera's musicians clearly buy into Rebarber's vision for the music. Which means Taylor turns his guitar down from 11 and the rhythm sections don't pound quite as fast or furiously as they do in their rock incarnations.

For Rebarber's vision is pop rooted -- that is, the pop of Burt Bachrach, Elvis Costello and Jane Siberry with a touch of Tom Waits thrown in for good dissonant measure. So Floating Opera music has complex arrangements that utilize strings and lush keyboards, tightly crafted melodies and hooks and takes enough chances to be compelling, hardly the usual barroom rock stuff.

A trio of songs early on in the record illustrate the Floating Opera approach:

The gorgeous "Ocean" brings to mind Bachrach as Allison's vocals float against Rebarber's keyboard and Boye's bass. The mood shifts immediately to the driving attack of "Palookaville Moan," which marches and soars with violin, trumpet and saxophone joining the standard rock instrumental lineup. Then Allison uses her distinctive interpretive style and great range to pour emotion into "Arbus."

While she handles most of the songs, including the impressive title cut, Allison isn't the only singer on the record.

But it is worth noting that all the vocalists are females singing the literate lyrics of Charles Lieurance, which spin out stories rather than work in the standard verse-chorus-verse format. The female voices singing from the male perspective put a slightly offset spin on many of the tunes, including "Shakespeare Machine," which features the vocals of Chris Wilson, the group's violinist. But that also works to make the record captivating.

Wilson also sings "Doorways," going to her high soprano to give the song a punch that goes beyond its musical arrangements and takes on "Resignation Day, "the hardest rocking song on the record, while Heidi Ore impresses as always on the challenging "Shapes I Brought Back With Me."

Because it's a collective, Floating Opera doesn't perform much. Sunday night at Duffy'sTavern, it will play just its second show in two years and its first with Allison on vocals since 2000.

Sunday's show, which marks the official CD release for "Burning Lighthouse," will also feature the core band from the recordings, with Wilson, Rebarber, Boye,Taylor and guitarist Scott Stanfield all slated to take the Duffy's stage. Floating Opera will probably begin its set in the 11 p.m. range. Opening the show is Suzy Dreamer and the Nightmares.

Floating Opera never fails to impress live, and Sunday is a rare opportunity to catch a performance by one of the best lineups Rebarber has put together.

That's fitting, because "Burning Lighthouse," which stands up to repeat listenings, is the best record the collective has yet created and one of the top releases to come out of any Lincoln studio this year.

Spendid Magazine by Jennifer Kelly

This collection of orchestral chamber pop tunes feels more like a musical soundtrack than a pure audio recording. Vaguely story-based songs seem poised to illustrate a plot that's never quite spelled out, and the bubbly choruses call for crowds, lifting their arms in unison for a big finale.

The songs on Burning Lighthouse appear to span several years of work, with a revolving cast of characters that includes pre-Liars Ron Albertson and Pat Noecker on drums and bass. Songwriter/keyboard player Richard Rebarber creates lush arrangements, leaning heavily on strings and incorporating trumpets and saxophones. They are mostly skillfully done, and seldom overweigh singer Lori Allison's pure, fragile soprano. At its best, the ensemble sounds a good deal like Wayward Bus-era Magnetic Fields -- richly melodic but slightly twisted. In lesser moments, as in the squirmily earnest "Ocean", Floating Opera comes off as a Sondheim knock-off, nearly tipping under the weight of its own pretensions. The most compelling tracks are sweet but not cloying, their complexity counterbalancing the overt prettiness of Roche Sisters-style harmonies. "Agnes in Furs" is the standout, strings bleeding jazzy urgency into a hooky, power-driven melody. Also good, "Shakespeare Machine" juxtaposes buzzy guitar slashes with plucked strings and the twining interplay of Chris and Lori Allison's voices, while "Shapes I Brought Back With Me" has discordant piano-plinks playing tag with mod violins and an upswept vocal chorus.

Burning Lighthouse is sometimes busy, and sometimes stagey, but it's an interesting attempt to make sounds you seldom hear in modern pop music. It's show tunes without the show, and opera floating free of the opera house, but it works surprisingly well...most of the time.

Impact Press, August 2003

Creating eclectic songs using a variety of instruments comes easy for this massive collective of musicians based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Lori Allison provides almost all the vocals and does so passionately, sometimes too dramatically. Instruments used on this release include keyboards, trumpet, acoustic bass, saxophone, violin, cello, guitar, drums and electric bass. They claim their influences to be Burt Bacharach, "Imperial Bedroom"-era Elvis Costello, Brian Eno and, at times, Tom Waits. Yes, it's a truly mixed bag, but Floating Opera pulls it off. If you're looking for a full-bodied, eclectic, dramatic musical mix, this is for you. (CM)

Turk's Head Review 6/23/03:

Floating Opera's Burning Lighthouse boasts a slew of carefully wrought pop rock tunes, featuring the lead vocals of Lori Allison. The band states influences ranging from Elvis Costello to Jane Siberry to Burt Bacharach and Tori Amos. I can hear some of that. Most of the time the songs explore baroque pop ground, sometimes verging on Broadway style toonsmithing. Each song is its own entity, carefully arranged and played. I'm not always on board with some of the production here -- it's sometimes frayed (tugging in different directions). With more refined and consistent production, these songs could realize their full potential. I'd expect to see that happen as the band continues to mature. If you're seeking thoughtful pop songwriting that follows its own beat, Floating Opera is a band worth tracking.

IndieMusic.com by Jamin Spall:

Songwriters Charles Lieurance and Richard Rebarber have recruited several quality studio musicians to perform their originals under the name of the Floating Opera. This album is mixed and produced very nicely. It is a neat little project that that seems to have worked out to the benefit of the songwriters.

This CD is a combination of solid music and experienced studio production. The music is the true catalyst of this release. It provides the listener with several instrumentation's of all varieties. There is no one dominating lead instrument, and reflections of Elvis Costello and Ben Folds are predominate.The female vocal harmonies (and the mixing of those harmonies) may rival those of Indigo Girls. Although, I do feel that on occasion the lead solo vocals lack the intensity and range that is required to perform some of the songs on the album. Lieurance and Rebarber on occasion show signs of modern Broadway melodies in their songwriting.

Unfortunately, the vocalists do not have the range of modern singers on Broadway, but this does not really hurt the album completely. It is still a nice blend of good songwriting and quality music, and its quality makes the listener overlook a few small discrepancies in the lead solo vocals.

I would strongly recommend this release to anyone who enjoys music of all varieties. It features sounds of: brass, string, woodwind, and percussion arrangements.

Omaha Weekly Reader by Tim McMahan:

Among Scenefest 1's highlights is a rare live performance by Lincoln ensemble Floating Opera. Spearheaded by songwriters Charles Lieurance (The Black Dahlias) and Richard Rebarber, the ensemble includes some of the state's most talented performers, including vocalist Lori Allison (The Millions), drummer Paul Tisdale (Sideshow), as well as all three members of legendary punk rock outfit Mercy Rule -- guitarist Jon Taylor, vocalist Heidi Ore and drummer Ron Albertson.

On the ensemble's just completed third full-length release, Burning Lighthouse, the lineup rotates from song to song, with Allison handling the lion's share of vocals along with Omaha and Lincoln symphonies violinist Chris Wilson. Together, the ensemble comes off as a baroque plaything with violins, trumpets, the occasional keyboard and powerchords when you least expect them. The lilting all-girl vocals, almost angelic when harmonizing, all too often can be as soft as a covey of nuns, and would be too soft if not for the mostly first-person lyrics that sound like a slice of day-to-day and, hence, are as real as the Platte River.

According to Scenefest organizer Tery Daly, the Floating Opera lineup for the Aug. 3 show will be Wilson, Taylor, guitarist Scott Stanfield, Rebarber, bassist Dave Boye and cellist Alyssa Storey. Allison fans will be able to see her perform with the band, along with drummer Tisdale at the band's Aug. 27 CD release show at Duffy's.

Omaha Weekly Reader, part of "Picks of the week":

More a recording project than a band, Richard Rebarber and Co. gather for the release of their latest album, Burning Lighthouse. Featuring members of Mercy Rule and the Millions, Floating Opera has been an indie-rock hit since their 1993 self-titled debut. Catchy hooks and thoughtful lyrics turned the Lincoln, Neb., side project into Midwest royalty.