Scraping the Barrel 010
nd welcome again to another collection of CDs that in all likelihood should have been sent far, far away to a black pit somewhere, covered with concrete and then ignored. But no, I asked for these, I got them. I never learn, do I. (I was asked once why I put myself through this, and the answer is as before—knowing at least some of the bad stuff makes me appreciate the good stuff. See also: alcohol, politicians, and the weather.)
Worrytrain’s tastefully designed CDR package for its album Destroy the Wall Street Sundial could mean this band is anything. It’s vaguely grim looking and the sentiments of the title make me think of sloganeering. Industrial? Crusty? Metal? A delicate combination? So I play it and…gentle synth-pop IDM? The hell? And I was all mentally geared up for sneering dudes and salutes to Assuck. But instead it is all kinda industrial-ish, in the sort of lush floating calm gloom gothed-out soundtrack-without-a-film sense, with the occasional bit of clattering noise samples below lush mandolin overlays. Normally I can be a sucker for this—there’s a reason I own everything by In the Nursery ever—but this is fairly generic, though it still pleases me that someone, somewhere, out there, beneath the pale moonlight, still pursues this dream, and why not?
Sample song titles: “The Storm Is Now,” “Crystal and Scanner,” and my personal favorite, “As Black as War Water.” This leads me to wonder what war water is, and the visions created aren’t all pleasant. (Maybe he means oil, in which case the similes need some work.) No vocals as such but there are the occasional soft moans and wistful keening that leads me to think that they knew poetry was a bad idea—given the album title, not hard to agree with them. There’s some clattering drumming at point which makes me think of the world’s politest version of Crash Worship, which is probably the whole intent of the band to start with. In all, a perfect album for a gray Monday morning when I’m still trying to wake up from the weekend a bit, and one that I never need to hear again. One has to give these folks this much—this was the last place I was expecting to hear a drum solo of any sort.
The promo sticker claims that The Tallest Man on Earth is a “mysterious Swedish songsmith,” which leads me to guess it’s one of the Cardigans or something like that on a solo tip. I might idly investigate. As it stands, the feeling is less breezy winsome pop as it is raspily voiced freak-folk murder ballad Appalachia, so I’m beginning to wonder who is putting who on here. Then all of a sudden there’s a bit in a song called “Walk the Line” (not THAT one) where it’s like those acoustic Alice in Chains songs where Layne Staley was already looking ahead to the grave. Devendra’s behind this somehow, I know it, even if he’s not a grunge sort except by vague frowny association. Something to do with the beard and wool hats.
Apparently Small Leaks Sink Ships “is progressive indie rock at its best,” if you believe the testimonial on the back on their album Until the World is Happy, Wake Up You Sleepyhead Sun. Something about the self-referential grandiosity of so much of this current slop out there makes me hate—it’s not some of sort of punk-rock “it’s got to be real” nonsense, it’s more like “how can you claim to be this big huge thing of importance when you so obviously sound like a lot of other similar stuff?” A constant complaint in my job, and not helped by the further claims that the music is meant to remind you, the dear listener, of Minus the Bear, Modest Mouse, and the Mars Volta. No Mastodon, Motorhead, and Morrissey? Mm.
Anyway, as I figured, there’s a strangled high-pitched vocal, a vague sense of something that’s “inspirational” and a further confirmation of the claim I heard last year that the new cult act to be rehabilitated would be Supertramp. Not that this scales the heights of Breakfast in America or even Crime of the Century. There’s blasting rising guitar, there’s contemplative piano breaks, and there’s a sense that I should feel like the album cover, where there’s a wide open demi-desert landscape and there’s mountains in the background and it’s a painting so it’s not at all like The Joshua Tree. It’s somehow, y’know, more truly AMERICA I guess, and there’s two guys with buildings on their heads connected by a bridge playing a weak-ass game of tug of war with emo glasses. Because god knows that’s what I think of when I hear the shrieking voices on a song like “Gutter of Disneyland.” “Shake,” meanwhile, has acoustic guitars, bongos, and an opening lyric that goes “How can I be blind?” Not all terrible, but all kinda generic, I’m sure somebody likes this somewhere, and maybe they’ll be this year’s Devotchka and have a song on the feel good indie hit film of the summer. Kudos?
Another release, another set of promo sticker comparisons, and on Andrew Shapiro’s Quiet Kissing EP, I am told that this sounds like Philip Glass, Slowdive, ‘neo-80’s synth pop’ (aka the Postal Service, I have no doubt), and Sigur Ros. By my count that’s two positive, one suspicious, and one skeevy connection so I tread warily. Amusingly, this turns out to be not all that far removed from the Worrytrain album in general impact. The big difference? There is singing and there is less clattering. But there’s the same sense of melancholic evocation of things dark and moody and beautiful (but if there’s any Slowdive in here beyond a tangential connection to Pygmalion’s perfection, though, I’ll be damned if I hear it). Again, I’m a sucker for all this but I’m not someone who needs it every step of the way. Dude’s singing voice is sweetly restrained enough, and there’s a feeling this will soundtrack the part on the feel good indie hit film of the winter when the protagonists kiss each other in Central Park while snow falls gently around them. (I don’t think this would have made the love scene in the King Kong remake any better, though.) Gentle, nice, etc. etc., but if this is a debut EP, then step up for the full album and surprise people.
From here the going looks to be getting rough. First off, the disc art and the group’s Internet domain name claims that the band are called These Doors (as opposed to Those Doors? The 21st Century Doors? The ‘the lead guy is still dead’ Doors?), but on the spine and in the credits they appear to be called This Door To Remain Closed During Working Hours. I think I’ll stick with These Doors, if they don’t mind. And I’m sure they mean well, with their self-released effort Achieve Albeit an Absence (all of a sudden Small Leaks Sink Ships seem tame in comparison), with the bad art that a friend must have done on Photoshop for beer and pizza. It’s the type of thing I would expect to see on a Dream Theater bootleg T-shirt, unsettling as that vision is to my system, especially right before lunch.
So I’m expecting something sorta proggy, especially since all the songs except one are longer than ten minutes—one song title is “Just Another Example of Adults Transforming Your Magic…Into Static,” which sounds like what will happen when Gerard Way decides that he too must follow the career path of the goober from Blink-182 when he did that Angels and Airwaves idiocy. But the music’s too poorly recorded to be judged properly—whether it was the mixing or the mastering, this sounds like a demo recorded one room over, with the rhythm guitar and the bass riding well up over the dim drums and all sorts of other guitar noises and quiet melodies and phasing burbling in the distance. I assume it’s not intentional because if it is, then I’m afraid their attempt at giving their audience a feeling for what it’s like when you’re trying to sleep next door to a band rehearsing in their garage is rather quixotic (though I note that in the thank yous they credit “the college coffee house for allowing us to perform” and that sounds exactly right). While there’s enough soft guitar moodiness to easily zonk to as the album goes on, too often this is somewhere between the dullardry of late ‘90s post-rock, odd outbreaks of yacht-rock style “tasty licks,” and bizarro twee. The latter part is explained by the song title “When I Was This Many…”—here’s to hoping a second album does not have one called “I Did a Potty.”
I admit I really kinda hate CDs packaged in DVD cases. I’ve got a few around but rarely by choice. So Christopher has a strike against him already with Smoke and Origination, and there are several others than can be counted. This HAS to be full-on goth/industrial/metal doom and gloom, and again, these are normally all plus signs for me. But not when everything has been set up to be some sort of perfected masterwork—which might sound flippant but I note the album took the guy five years to record. Five years! A quicker work rate than Axl Rose, I grant, but still. There’s all sorts of hyper-tasteful artwork that’s part Tool, part Dave McKean, part Resident Evil, the fonts are equally and appropriately heavily designed, and there’s a warning on the back that if I dare rip and share this material that I deserve ‘a cock in [my] lazy eye.’ This, I admit, is not a prospect which fills me with happiness, but who am I to complain how the RIAA enforces their rulings?
Skullfuckery aside, song titles include “The Summoning Vector” and “Frailty Scan” (my favorite—“An Addendum,” while “Spaghetti Terrorist” is probably the only intentionally funny title), and all that’s left for me to do is play it. Yup, within thirty seconds—wailing female vocals shrouded in echo, mechanistic clatters shrouded in even more echo and the sense that yes, you too can be at the pagan altar in the post-Blade Runner landscape of nightmares as demons prepare to tear you apart while having sex with the black-lipsticked gender member of your choice, as further punctuated later in the album with plenty of doomy guitar and dark synths and etc.. Again, this is not a complaint per se, but I always liked how, say, Soft Cell promised all this and delivered while also embracing pop hooks, humor, and glitter (and Marc Almond remains the only guy in the universe ever who will have appeared on a Coil album and a number one hit with Gene Pitney, and this within about three years of each other). Meantime, when Christopher himself starts singing, it’s that kind of demi-seductive sorta-dark speak-singing desperation that is secretly so AOR it’s funny (when he suddenly pitches down to sing “C’mon baby, fill in the blanks,” I almost want to high-five him for his sudden honesty). H.I.M. know how to do this kinda singing in their sleep, Pete Steele from Type O Negative could croon this dude into the next universe, it’s just that obvious and flat when it comes from him. I really can’t go on trashing the guy too much, but the problem here isn’t that this is goofy or bad, which it is, it’s just that this is exactly what I expected and there’s nothing I can do but shrug at it, a genre exercise like all of 95% of music is. It’s going to kill time from here for another hour and I predict when I come back I’ll have nothing to add to this.
*an hour passes*
I was right.
And that leaves me with Patrick Cornell and his EP This Much Is True, which has nothing to do with Spandau Ballet or, for that matter, Wally Lamb. An amiable fellow, I am sure, lives north of me up in LA, is sitting on a park bench with a kind of “I’m not Jack Johnson or Daniel Powter or Badly Drawn Boy but thanks for the compliment” look to him. He did everything himself on his computer and that’s all right. He had a guest in for two solos and that’s all right too. The hooks aren’t even half bad in a “you can hum ‘em okay” way, even if most of the songs pretty much sound the same, though there is the acoustic “hey man it’s groovy even when you’re sad” one that’s called “Black Beauty” which doubtless is about a barista. But being a one-man post-grungey alt-rock band these days is just kinda unfortunate. The glory days in which maybe, just MAYBE, a song called “Dies Irae”—and that it is how it is spelled—would have garnered a spin or two on the local band hour of some slightly adventurous modern rock station in 1993 are passed. Then again, maybe he’s aiming for Indie 103.1—he is in Los Angeles, after all. Rock on with your desperate yearn/whine vocals and “If I could only be Neil Young” guitars, my friend. Someone somewhere will pump their fists and wave their lighters in the air. Alas, no matter what, for now you will still have to wake up and go to work. Life is a cruel thing sometimes. And never ever call a song anything like “Laurel Canyon Strut” again.
By: Ned Raggett
Published on: 2007-06-01