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?
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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)
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.
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
Other press for "Burning Lighthouse":
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
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