Dancing With Daggers
e’re half a decade into the age of iTunes, an age when almost every album on the planet is regularly reduced to choice cuts by the end user, and yet I still can’t help but take Dancing With Daggers to task for feeling like a vehicle for just a few of its songs. Believe me, I wish it were otherwise, but the plain fact of the matter is that Dancing With Daggers could be re-released as “Wild Gardens,” its best song, repeated thirteen times and I’d hardly bat an eye.
I hasten to add that the meat of Dancing With Daggers is hardly anything to sneeze at; if the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came up with a record half as uncompromisingly rocking from bell to bell as Magneta Lane seem to have done their first time up, I might actually be convinced to give a fuck about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. There’s a genuine forcefulness to Magneta Lane’s sound that seems to be missing from so many of their nu-wave compatriots, mostly owing to the way lead singer Lexi’s bloodlessly (yet beautifully) delivered vocals contrast against the snarling forward motion of the band’s music. In small doses it’ll absolutely cure what ails you.
Unfortunately, taken in one album-sized chunk, the effect tends to wear thin—a doubly damning criticism since Dancing With Daggers is only ten seconds shy of being thirty minutes long. It’s possible, I suppose, that I’ve become a dinosaur at twenty-five and Magneta Lane’s relentlessly accusatory fire is something better left to Thee Kidz; all I know is that I love “The Better Plan” when it shows up on my iPod randomly at the gym yet have to force to make it through Dancing With Daggers to hear it in context. I’d find it a lot more believable if the veneer would crack just once; having lived with a little sister, I find the sustainability of Magneta Lane’s emotional tone slightly contrived.
Except, that is, for “Wild Gardens,” easily the best song Magneta Lane have yet to record. Hardly a trailblazing excursion away from their sound, “Wild Gardens” exemplifies Magneta Lane’s sound in a way that renders the rest of their attempts on the album inconsequential. There’s simply something present in the way Lexi detachedly shuffles through the verses and the way the chorus crunches into existence that’s only found in fleeting instances over the rest of the album. It’s their “Maps,” their “Float On,” their “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack”—in other words, the moment all their musical signifiers come together into one perfect musical storm.
It really does hurt me to put Dancing With Daggers on the same artistic level as Jim Jones’ newest. It’s substantially better than I’m probably making it sound, especially for a debut LP. It’s just not a very exciting album, nor is engaging with it a particularly fruitful experience; last year gave us the Long Blondes if we want to hear some articulate wounded girls and Hell Hath No Fury if we want to hear some seething rage. Still, “Wild Gardens” hints at a brighter future for Magneta Lane—if they can ever tap into that vein for a full album, we’re all in trouble.
Reviewed by: James Cobo
Reviewed on: 2007-01-29