A Multitude of Sonics
“There’s nothing we can do / We were born to die fools.”
So goes the chorus of “Lover’s Game”, the best song on the kaleidoscope of a record that is Myth. The lyric does capture the youthful, carefree effervescence that so defines the game of love, but in a way it speaks volumes to the members of Geographer. There is a sort of devil-may-careness to their music; not in a lack of artistic interest, but rather a free-spirited approach to songwriting. The forty-two minutes of Myth fly by pretty fast, but during that time there’s plenty going on. Some chillwave here, some dance-pop here, and a lot of really interesting synthesizer work throughout. Like the colors intermixing on the album’s camouflage sleeve art, Myth is a diverse portrait of this San Francisco-based trio. Yet for the various colors that make up Myth, the experimentation can sound more like diversity for the sake of itself rather than for trying to be sonic pioneers.
Just based off of this recording, it sounds like Geographer takes very seriously the threat to making a unique work of art posed by the dictum “there’s nothing new under the sun.” At their most basic, Geographer is a noteworthy indie rock band with an affinity for textural synthesizers. But with Myth, Geographer seem like they’re trying their hardest to be the musical equivalent of an eel; every time you try to grab and classify them, they slip right out of your hands. Even their most run-of the mill material here, namely the straightforward alternative of “The Myth of Youth”, opens with a weird, droning noise, and is throughout laced with chirping synths; God forbid it be just a simple rock song. While there is a definite tendency to want to over-label bands with genre name upon genre name, at the same time it’s interesting to see a band try to side-skirt being classified at all. The skill of some records is that their uniqueness defies classification; unfortunately, Geographer’s music sounds like it’s trying to be something new under the sun, and it doesn’t always do so organically.
For the most part, Myth is a solid album. The record has what might be one of 2012’s best pop singles in “Lover’s Game”, a track that practically necessitates a remix EP. Its insistent piano chords would fit in equally on a dance floor or an indie mixtape; its hook is both malleable and infectious. “Shell Beach” loops Nathan Blaz’s cello, which is run through various instrument pedals, behind one of the album’s better guitar parts. The video game synth of “Kites”, though sounding out of place initially, builds into a memorable chorus. These are key highlights of the record, whose production quality and musicianship throughout are excellent.
Where the record falters most notably is in the key manifestation of the anti-classification vibe running throughout: call it the Radiohead tendency. Cuts like “The Boulder” and “Kaleidoscope” bear a similarity to the worshipped British band; the former especially captures the dreamy sonic that Radiohead does so well, due in large part to Michael Deni’s falsetto. For my money, Radiohead’s “experimental” stuff (best seen in the transition from OK Computer to Kid A) is grossly overrated, so I’m by no means accusing Geographer of daring to think they could ever occupy the stratosphere that Radiohead does. Rather, their idea of textural, experimental indie cuts runs too similar to Radiohead’s, which itself isn’t that great. (No, I didn’t like The King of Limbs.) They do that better on the chillwave-esque “Blinders.”
The multitude of sonics on Myth prove Geographer to be something of musical adventurers, even if the various paths they travel down don’t always lead to success. There’s enough great material here that one will likely spin this record more than once, especially for the pop brilliance the band achieves on “Lover’s Game”. Like the youthful joie de vivre of that song, these musicians have a seemingly unending ambition, and for the most part it serves them well. So long as they keep working at refining it, things will likely go up from here for these Geographers.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.