The cover of The Berlin Project’s Transition Radio EP features a cool picture of a girl looking into a storefront window that features various mannequin heads sporting wigs and hats. The shot, like the rest of the sleeve, is tinted a light blue, giving the feeling that this EP may very well hold some interestingly hip sounds inside. When I first glanced at the disc, the photo and sleeve style came across like a neat Britpop kind of idea. But when I put the disc on, those hopes were dashed away.
However, one look at the Orange Peal label name on the sleeve should have tipped me off that this was probably going to be a standard pop punk release. So is that what The Berlin Project delivers on this release? Yes. I wish it wasn’t the case, because there are plenty of bands currently out now that sound just like these guys. The Berlin Project comes with your standard popular late ‘90s/new millennium ingredients for an “accessible” punk band: nasally lead singer/guitarist who sounds like a Dead Milkmen leftover, second guitarist and vocalist who has a much better singing voice, but nevertheless gets stuck doing backup vocals to prove how much better he can sing than the lead guy, and a bassist, keyboardist and drummer who sound like they’ve walked into the wrong band (that’s actually a compliment). Name-wise these men are known as John Garrighan, Brian Camp, Brad Evanovich, Aaron Mediate, and Nick Revak.
Let me make clear that The Berlin Project’s music isn’t bad at all. It’s just that all their songs sound the same here. I’m usually a huge fan of the EP format, but the five tunes included here don’t show a very broad range from song to song. I do like Mediate’s Moog work throughout, as it adds at least a different spin to the pop-punk franchise even if other power pop bands have been using the instrument for years now. In fact, the leadoff track “Crashing Down” is a great opener, featuring nice interplay between the guitars and keyboards and has plenty of energy to make you take notice. After that, though, things get a bit predictable.
“Someday Forever” begins with a note of feedback and then dives headlong into a speedy rocker with the typical bash-bash rhythm from Revak’s drums that seems to be all the rage in many of the latest power punk groups lately. Luckily, Revak knows how to handle more than one tempo and works fluidly throughout the track, saving the song in the process. By the end of it, the song nose-dives as the vocals turn into a mix of singing and throat-shredding screams; it made me laugh out loud because it completely undermined everything that came before that moment. It’s probably not the reaction the band had in mind when they recorded the song.
“Stay Gold” features some tight vocal harmonies from the rest of the group, as well as some intense rhythm from Evanovich and Revak once again. It’s moments like these on the disc that frustrate me, because I think The Berlin Project definitely have some high potential. I just wish they would flesh that quality out a bit more instead of resolving to mainly just play it fast and hard. If they just dropped the tempos only a notch and let those nice rhythmic breaks take hold a bit more, then I think they’d really have something great going on. “Runaway” actually lets this idea come through, but by this time it’s already the fourth track, which means there’s only one more song to hear. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that song (“Aberdeen 3:06”) is a strictly acoustic number that closes The Transition Radio EP on a somewhat truncated note.
I have to say that my biggest problem with The Berlin Project is indeed the vocals. This was the same qualm I had with labelmates, the Sloppy Meateaters. Both bands feature some pretty good (if not entirely original) music, but are impaired by the limitations of their main vocalist. I admit that I’d rather hear some guy who sounded like his voice had matured rather than someone who sounds like he’s still 15 with vocal cords still going through the pubescent process. All in all, The Transition Radio EP is pretty good, but you can definitely do better if this kind of music is your thing (Millencolin comes to mind as a good alternative). Not bad, but nothing to get excited about.