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Beautifully Smart

Happy Happy Birthday To Me

hen thinking about Norwegian bands, I admit I usually envision leather-draped, lank-haired death metallers setting ancient wooden churches ablaze by the stark light of a polar moon. Thankfully AqPop is having none of that. Part of an enthusiastic clan of vivid acts based in Trondheim, AqPop is often referred to as a psych band, though on the somewhat lumpy Beautifully Smart they sound more familiar with melodic hard rock and art-brat poses, a catchy if shrill mix of Weezer and the Psychedelic Furs.

The oddly named outfit (formerly known as the Aquarium Poppers) is often too unfocused to give these songs the shape they need though. The mixed results include some striking songs, some striking moments in otherwise taxing songs, and some plain old bad songs. This disc is further burdened with an overbearing production that detracts from the music, leaving the listener with a nagging headache and a vague impression that he just heard a pretty decent song, right before the pain set in.

Beautifully Smart does give you its best trio of songs in one convenient clump, among them the too-brief “Beautifully Smart, She’s Standing There,” a crystalline hard-pop gem that is AqPop at its most appealing. Darker and harder on “Relate That Something,” AqPop begin to sound similar to Scottish favorites Idlewild, galloping guitar drama and all. There’s a fair amount of underperforming material here, too. Songs like “Have It” and “Command Smile;able” have some fired up playing and sharp arrangement ideas, but they’re unsatisfying, easier to forget than they should be.

The expertly filthy distortion of the guitars on the latter song and the sludgy Queens of the Stone Age riff that highlights the otherwise tedious “Syranid” hint at even heavier things possibly to come. But for the here and now Beautifully Smart frustrates as much as it pleases in its threat to sew together pop, metal, synth, surf, and space into a cogent whole.

It shouldn’t be too hard for AqPop to resolve itself into a potent, consistent unit, not if the highlights of this debut are a fair indication. They have recently lost half of their songwriting team with the recent defection of guitarist Karl Morten Dahl, but each of their songwriters have shared in the highs and lows so a swift recovery is not impossible. I’d like to hear from this crew again, hopefully with a little more focus and a bit less bombast next time.

Reviewed by: Chuck Zak

Reviewed on: 2005-05-03

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