[13 July 2007]
American Catapult is a band that truly has the soul of the American landscape running through their veins. Not only does the Southern California quartet play songs which attempt to capture the experience of being young, free, and in the midst of wide open spaces (both geographically and emotionally), but the band has literally brought their music to a wide range of settings which dot the horizons of many who live in the lower forty-eight. The band has professed to having played everywhere from abandoned airfields and rest stops to the local coin laundry. “We have found over time this incredible difficulty in finding decent places to play out,” says vocalist/guitarist Tom Townsend, in a press release. “It became our mission to get out of our little rehearsal space and find an audience, any audience even if that meant playing during the spin cycle at a local Laundromat full of strangers.”
Based on the results displayed on Trees of Mystery , the members of American Catapult have presented these strange and ordinary locales with a straight-ahead, uncomplicated sound that draws from the earthy guitar jangles, country overtones and pop sensibilities of early R.E.M., Son Volt, and even the early-to-mid ‘90s vibe of such radio friendly bands as Gin Blossoms and Toad the Wet Sprocket. The band is secure and strong in their sound, displaying an understanding of what a professional rock and roll album should sound like.
On their second full-length offering (the group has also released two EP projects), the band initiates a string of consistently likeable, easily approachable rock songs with “This Time”, an opening salvo which sets the tenor and pace of the album to come as well as any opening track could. A melodic slice of contemporary pop/rock with one foot planted in rootsy traditions, the track establishes Townsend as an Everyman ready and able to guide listeners through the band’s musings. With a voice that in many ways resembles the unadorned, regular guy delivery of Jay Farrar, though less gruff or baritone in timbre, Townsend fits the part and accomplishes the task set before him, amiably and effectively putting himself and his band in a position to strike a positive chord with melodic rock enthusiasts.
Continuing in this vein, the album’s title track follows a pleasing chord progression and medium tempo which frame Townsend’s vocals well as his voice crescendos without becoming overly dramatic. The band’s work is always measured, never wildly digressing from the strengths they possess instrumentally. Other highlights include “Crooked Straight” and “Stingray”; although these are musically some of the finer moments on the record, each track includes lyrical maneuvers which attempt to connect with the audience but overreach and simply come off as awkward. Late in the development of “Crooked Straight”, Townsend tries to be too clever for the song’s good, singing “Maybe this is clockwork / It seems a little orange / And I know, I know that you would like it if I could find a rhyme with orange” while “Stingray” dispenses with the retro references to the point of seeming like the band is trying just a little too hard. The mellow tones and slower (though not quite to the point of being labeled a ballad) pace of album closer “Disappointment Is” gives off a reflective vibe, fitting with the themes and moods represented on Trees of Mystery . Ending in a gently cascading chorus of “hey"s, the song joins “This Time” as arguably the record’s two strongest cuts. Though the entire album is solid, the fact that nothing in the heart of its tracklisting approaches the quality of its first or last song is an issue American Catapult might want to address on their next effort.
Throughout the course of Trees of Mystery , it becomes clear that nothing revolutionary or earth shattering will occur over the span of these eleven selections. While the band’s effort is certainly enjoyable and proves American Catapult as a band worthy of mentioning in some of the omni-present listings journalists love to create featuring bands queued up to take their place near the forefront of their respective scenes, the band’s work here will give a warm and familiar feeling far more often than it will overpower the senses or blow the listener away. Like the laundromats and rest stops the band has played, many of the places they take the listener to are likely places they’ve been before. However, in an age where quality, accessible rock is difficult to uncover, perhaps the world needs more bands like American Catapult. The band is likely to resonate with a wide demographic and cross section of music lovers—and rightly so.