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The Free Design 

You Could Be Born Again|Stars/Bubbles/Time/Love

Wednesday, Sep 1 2004
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Beloved by Stereolab and the High Llamas (whose Sean O'Hagan wrote Born Again's liner notes), the Free Design was an NYC group in the late '60s/ early '70s celebrated for its exquisitely arranged male/ female harmonies and unabashedly cheerful songs. Though saccharine -- the band is so incredibly white-sounding it makes the Beach Boys seem like Public Enemy -- the FD's output is dazzling, its jazz-inflected vocal blending orchestral. And there are dark undercurrents that set the group apart from its sunny-voiced colleagues. You Could Be Born Again (1968) recalls the Aquarian Age, full of naive wonderment, with hints of bossa nova and the Baroque designs of the Left Banke and the Beatles, whose "Eleanor Rigby" is given a remarkably gothic treatment via only voices, cello, and spare percussion. "Ivy on a Windy Day" is trippy, ethereal folk-pop. Stars/Bubbles/Time/Love (1970) is comparable, but finds the FD getting inadvisably "funky," with "groovy" guitar and organ flourishes. Fortunately, most of S/B/T/L is what the Free Design did best: sing rainbows with dark clouds in between the colors.

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Mark Keresman

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