esert Doughnuts, the debut album from Metallic Falcons, does a laudable job of creating an atmosphere. We’re immediately transported to the open range—the duo apparently “conceived [it] as a songcycle during their shared travels across the American desert.” Rattlesnakes menace “A Heart of Birdsong,” the recording heaves healthy doses of reverb on top of anything and everything, and they’ve even named a song “Ocean.” Two out of three ain’t bad. It would’ve been a good average for Sierra Casady (CocoRosie) and Matteah Baim, the driving forces behind the record, had they been able to match it. Unfortunately, Desert Doughnuts doesn’t come remotely close.
The record boasts a number of talented guests and unsurprisingly, the track featuring Antony (of and the Johnsons fame) (“Nighttime and Morning”) is the highlight. Underneath a haze of ambient noise, the trio sings a lonely dirge—only to be soon replaced by a second movement that sets the girls against an out-of-tune piano and a guitar plucking out a Constellation-inspired melody. “Disparu” equally enchants, if only because they don’t allow instruments to intrude. It’s a haunting elegy for the end times, sung from the catacombs.
And the rest of the album? With rare exception, it’s an uninspiring mash of sloppy indie rock, synthscapes, and generally fantastic singing. Opener “Journey” is a case in point, it floats along for its first half unremarkably, until its wishy-washy synth line and Brandon Teena vocals are cut off by a self-important splash of heated drumming and fevered guitar. If the poorly mixed and subpar playing weren’t issue enough, all hints of the previously built atmosphere are lost in the maelstrom. Playing a slowly loping guitar line alongside plodding drums in “Airships” again ruins any mood that might eventually develop. Simplicity is the point, of course, but when it’s played this dispassionately someone should step in and reconsider its employ.
The problems invariably come when instruments intrude. “Berry Metal”’s “improv” drums are thoroughly laughable, “Four Hearts”’ piano interferes unnecessarily on what could’ve been a plaintive stunner, and “Misty Song” turns a dark and stormy night into a Paper Chase B-side. Desert Doughnuts clocks in at a fascinating forty-eight minutes. Fascinating because it feels like seventy. With most songs rarely reaching above 90 BPM, it’s a necessary problem. But one gets the feeling that if the group untangled itself from the garish guitars and narcoleptic drumming, they’d finally find themselves free to find out what a desert cathedral really sounds like.