A. Graham And The Moment Band
This Tyrant Is Free

Sonic Unyon

. Graham And The Moment Band are the very definition of a musical hodge-podge. Their sound is rooted in good old pop music, but so many different stylistic types are thrown around during the course of the fourteen songs on This Tyrant Is Free that you may find yourself struggling to find the soul of this band. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. How many times have you heard a band employ a small choir, seeping strains of pedal steel guitar, a chorus that joyfully shouts “Glorious / Triumphant / Optimistic / Transcendent” and not have the song sound anything like gospel? These guys are clever, fun and able to make the most of their limited formula. But ultimately it is a formula.

Here it is:
1) Write all songs in 4/4 time.
2) Shout chorus, thus forcing listener to feel they should be singing along.
3) Write hooky guitar lead. Make slightly derivative of bands like The Feelies, Silver Jews and Pavement.
4) Write wry but silly lyrics that seem to fall somewhere between tongue in cheek and obtuse.
5) Inappropriately employ horns and keyboards in random places. This may create a dramatic effect. (It may not, but what the hell.)
6) Don’t let up for fourteen tracks.
The biggest problem with This Tyrant Is Free is their insistence that more is always more. Over the course of its length, the opposite seems to be closer to the truth. Why not just make it a ten-song album packed full of upbeat tunes, instead of forcing people to resequence the record? I can hear the iPod click wheels creating special A. Graham playlists already.

Of course, there are more problems. Take for instance, the fact that lead singer Andy Graham isn’t a talented vocalist. He employs a style that falls on the tone scale somewhere between the worst band in the high school talent show and David Berman of the Silver Jews. Certainly his half-sing/half-talk style recalls Berman, but Berman’s ability to tell a great story in terms both literary and human makes you forget his shortcomings as a vocalist. Andy Graham’s lyrics are so offbeat that often nearly pushes some of the songs into novelty territory. “Feminine Side”, “Nut Case” and “Chicken Monkeys” may be funny songs but when taken together, it starts to feel like a Dr. Demento Show or a Weird Al Yankovic cover band.

This Tyrant Is Free has its moments. There are a handful of songs here that make you understand why Sonic Unyon signed the band to a contract. But amid a roster with pop specialists Jens Lekman and Frank Black, that handful of songs isn’t quite enough to sustain This Tyrant Is Free for its full length, without making me want to resort to their more successful brethren. Listen selectively.

Reviewed by: Peter Funk

Reviewed on: 2004-12-09

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