10th Avenue Freakout
t seems like this just might the point where everyone gets off the bus when it comes to Fog. Before you had everyone and their brother raving about the live show (he’s got two turntables and a microphone?!?) and the albums (brilliant amalgams of vinyl and acoustic?!?). And, for the most part it seemed like the praise was a bit of the ol-cart-before-the-horse problem—such promise in a debut and follow-up means that there is something big laying in the future. Something epochal. Something classic. 10th Avenue Freakout is not that album.
One of the major problems with the album can be traced directly to the label that released it: Lex. A fine label, but one that released a record entitled Hymie’s Basement, which found Andrew Broder collaborating with Why? of Anticon. 10th Avenue Freakout’s weaknesses are the same ones found on that record: the lyrics oftentimes become too precious too bear, the music sometimes goes too far the way of abstraction and sketchiness, and rarely (but enough to bear mentioning!) Broder’s vocals sound like he cares as little about this album as you should.
The aforementioned lyrics are, of course, a by-product of the faux-poetics that Why? brought to the table when their collaboration took place. The kitchen-sink free-association approach is a commendable one, but it makes for tedious listening: every one insight is coupled with a “neon pink werewolf” hanging suspended above (?) a ceiling. Which is to say that: you can like this stuff, but you have to make room for the idea that a) people are going to find fault with it and b) that it’s completely ridiculous no matter how hard you justify it. That being said, “Holy Holy Holy” is rather uplifting.
So is “Hummer,” which rides the line between a degree of musical abstraction and pop that Broder often doesn’t tread very well in other instances. “The Hully Gully” seems like a pointless six-minute exercise in childish noisemaking, “Song About A Wedding” never really gets anywhere at all past a piano and a bass in love with one another, and the same goes for the slow-moving trudge of “The Small Burn.”
But the musical missteps wouldn’t be so bad if Broder’s voice didn’t often betray him. Too often on 10th Avenue Freakout, there’s no life to the vocals. Broder’s voice has never been the strongest of elements in the sound of Fog, but here it sounds positively detrimental as it goes through the motions of adding color to the frequently interesting backdrops.
Despite all of the above qualms, if you’re a fan of Fog already, 10th Avenue Freakout might work best if seen in the same way as the Books’ third album. Tired of all the quirkiness and sampledelia that went along with their persona, each album takes a step back to reassess where their careers are heading. And while both are hushed peons to subtlety, Fog’s album fares far worse than the Brooklyn duo, crafting an eminently forgettable album that’s desperately in search of a hook like “21st Century Pop Song.”
Reviewed by: Charles Merwin
Reviewed on: 2005-04-15