There are two great ironies about Carter Tanton’s (Tulsa, Marissa Nadler, Lower Dens) new project the Luxury Liners, and its first LP under that moniker, They’re Flowers: his kitchen sink approach to bedroom/dancefloor synth pop seems to encapsulate every possible sound except the International Submarine Band or Emmylou Harris, and the nine songs contained herein are so heavily processed that the organic suggestion of the album title seems highly dubious. Loops, backward loops, synths, static crackles, drum machines, the “piccolo” setting on a keyboard—there isn’t a trick Tanton won’t throw in to a track, and the end result of this too-much-is-never-enough ethos is cacophonous, clangorous and ultimately exhausting.
Tanton opens with a bit of record collector cred establishing with a cover of the title track of John Cale’s 1984 album, Caribbean Sunset (a record that has never been issued on CD or digitally), and with its looped-backwards rhythm section and Yorke-ethereal vocals, could be mistaken for a Radiohead b-side. Meanwhile, Alex Chilton is probably up in heaven scratching his head over the Liners’ ostensible tribute to him, “Memphis Alex”: all trampoline drums, squelchy synths and nearly-indecipherable vocals (save “...dead in New Orleans”, which seems to be the only lyrically comprehensible Chilton-biographical detail in the song), it’s too fussy to connect with Chilton.
Thing is, Tanton knows his way around a pop tune—the less processed, less claustrophobic “Sit and See” and the acoustic guitar that anchors the break-up song “Dog Days/Afternoons” are proof of that—but he can’t help but shovel on extra sounds; to wit, the grating, insistent drum loops and unresolved keyboard skritching of the somber “Dog Days/Afternoons” are particularly distracting. That said, the band does ease off the throttle for album centerpiece “Life’s A Beach”, a hazy pop song that dares to ask the question, What if Brian Wilson was a 22-year-old with a synthesizer signed to Mexican Summer?, and features a lovely, two-minute drift-out-to-sea coda. It’s a snapshot of what could have been on this overstuffed, overprocessed album.