It is nearly impossible to extricate My Dinosaur Life from the concept of irony. It's inescapable, saturating every note, theme, and lyric that Motion City Soundtrack play and singer Justin Pierre sings. Listening to first track, "Worker Bee", in which Pierre screams "I've been a good worker bee. I deserve a GOLD STAR!", one can imagine the tech assistants snickering during the recording. The problem with My Dinosaur Life is that, in this same scenario, Pierre would probably look at them with a puzzled look, wondering why anyone would laugh at his seemingly serious lyrics. You see, with the release of My Dinosaur Life, it would appear Motion City Soundtrack have come down with the same ailment that has afflicted Weezer for nearly a decade. Instead of using irony as a tool to mold an identity for their sound, MCS have allowed irony to become their identity. It is no coincidence that My Dinosaur Life houses music widely different from Motion City Soundtrack's past releases. Those previous three albums' tunes revolved around themes of unsureness and vulnerability, Pierre's emotive voice fitting the material to an almost uncomfortable degree. Now, however, it sounds as if Motion City Soundtrack have finally gathered a confidence in their craft. Unfortunately for them, this results in an enormous drop-off in quality; confidence in spewing cringeworthy non sequiturs and nauseating pop culture references. So, ultimately, the good news is that MCS have finally found their identity, but the bad news is that identity entails the abandonment of all the elements that made them identifiable. How ironic.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
"Swim", the first single from Surfer Blood's debut album, never struck me as Astro Coast's highlight as much as many other publications proclaimed. In fact, I see that song in the context of the rest of the album as an outlier; the comical amount of reverb and admittedly anthemic chorus awkward juxtaposed with the clean guitar jams surrounding the track. Instead, I'm more partial to "Floating Vibes". Its speaker-rattling treble and general buoyancy is a much better representation of the elements that make Surfer Blood's debut such an enriching experience.
If you like "Floating Vibes", you'll enjoy the rest of Astro Coast. The album is thoroughly pleasant if not consistent, but never bereft of variance. Don't like "Fast Jabroni"? Perhaps you'll like "Slow Jabroni". And if not then, maybe the bouncy "Twin Peaks" is more your style, or the smooth "Harmonics", or the penultimate track, "Take It Easy". Don't like any of that? Eh, who needs ya.
In a way, Surfer Blood have released the perfect debut album. Astro Coast establishes a definite sound with some major songwriting potential at work, but never peaks early. There is much room for improvement and plenty to expand upon for future releases. This isn't the last we'll hear of Surfer Blood, and Astro Coast puts the band in a nice position to have an excellent career.
For some reason, no matter how many times I try, I cannot get into Spoon. For all the critical acclaim that the band has received over the past decade, I have never really seen the Texas troupe as much more than an outfit content to spend a career coasting on an aura of cool that I'm not sure ever really existed. My only in-depth encounters with the band have been through hearing "I Turn My Camera On", a truly awful song, "The Underdog", actually quite a good song, and this album.
And any notion of Spoon being anything more than an adequate indie rock band was all but abandoned with the hearing of Transference, the band's fifth work. As I alluded to before, too much of Transference relies on the repetition of a few measures of music, and when those measures don't necessarily hold an ear for longer than a minute, Transference can feel like less of an insult and more of just a plain old disappointment.
But, lucky for Spoon, a good portion of the melodies crafted on Transference range from listenable to downright catchy. Songs like "Written in Reverse" and first single "Got Nuffin" prove to be pretty potent earworms. Nothing on Transference gets anywhere near outstanding, however, which only convinces me further that Spoon has just smirked unconvincingly past yet another album, high off a cloud of pure, unadulterated adequacy.
There is no doubt that Hidden is an album worth listening to, if for nothing more than the band's use of percussion. For eleven tracks, styles that span the spectrum of musicality are compiled, blended, and, most importantly, manipulated into something purely all its own. For that in itself, Jack Bennett and his group should be applauded.
However, Hidden has its major flaws, the majority of which lie in the fact that its songs, for however interesting they are, don't necessarily go anywhere. And for certain songs, that is fine, but any one that doesn't immediately spark one's interest starts showing some pretty conspicuous cracks once repetition sets in. "Drum Courts - Where the Corals Lie" is the best example of this problem. The song is six minutes of intricately-laid drum beats that begin to wear on one's patience once your realize that the lyrics debase to Barrett teasing you as to where the corals lie by the end of the track.
Despite its flaws, Hidden is a worthy listen; a collection of songs that will surely whet your pallet for music theory, but may be found to be lacking in overall songwriting clout.