The name of a band, most always, reflects the sound of the band. You don’t have to pick up Velvet Acid Christ to know that this is probably going to be a heavy release. You don’t have to download an MP3 of the Von Bondies to guess that they’re probably a rock band. You don’t have to buy anything by Limp Bizkit to know that the music contained within is crap.
Yet what’s your gut take on a band called the Candy Bars? Whimsical dance tunes? The power-pop offspring of the New Pornographers? Well, for one, the Tampa-based indie rockers aren’t very happy. Nor are they as disposable as a bag full of empty calories. In the end, they sound like Broken Social Scene after taking heavy sedatives. This isn’t slowcore, but this isn’t happy happy bouncy joy, either. This may not be quick satisfaction like a Snickers bar, but it’s still good in the end.
While the indie music bloggers (always the forefront of anything big that will change the shape of music) have been quick to point to the Bars as indie-rock’s Next Big Thing . . . at first you first realize they might be right. Disregarding the too-long title of their debut LP (On Cutting Ti-gers in Half and Understanding Narravation), the opening track, “Landscape”, lures you in with Victorian-styled harpsicord pluckings and classical guitar, Melissa Castellano’s cello providing ample backing to the song with a few tempo-shifts and the breathy and barely-decipherable lyrics that start with:
Pleasant trees on the left, /
Dancers in pink dive into lakes, /
They float on the oil, /
Fire escapes climbed to reach balconies where wind fills the sails and rustles the leaves.
While the meaning can be debated for years (or at least months) to come, the truth is that the opener is one sweet symphony of flavor.
Following immediately is the watered-down Arcade Fire-styled ballad “Works Cited”, again featuring shifting tempos, breathy lyrics, and an overall feeling of minor-key despair. The four note guitar-creshendo right after the chorus (and frequently repeated) practically makes the song, and adds just a slight bit of whimsy to the dour proceedings. Then the acoustic whimsy-pop of “Violets”, catchy upon first listen, swings the mood into the upbeat, adds a bit of adrenaline, and closes out what is a fantastic opening 1-2-3 punch. Maybe they are the future of indie rock!
Or maybe not. As great as the opening trio of songs are, it soon becomes apparent that the Candy Bars have already used up everything in their bag of tricks, offering nothing new in the following eight tracks. While the country-styled “Winter Is a Cathedral” tries to front new ground, it fails to rise about the been-there done that feeling that makes the rest of Ti-Gers a bore. The lyrics are perpetually surreal (“Oh Moses, / Welcome to the school of sorrows in some broken town like lonesome town, / Where the capitols of lyrics are as important as Math or English or Imagining” singer Daniel Martinez sights on “Enough to Choke a Cold Air”), but the music itself gradually grinds to a stopping point of interest—the listener getting off the train before it even reaches the station.
In the end, this is not one of those great classic debuts like Funeral or even You Forgot It In People—it’s a strong but problematic showing from a band with a very distinct sound. If they work at it, they can pull of something worth 100 Grand. Until then, they’re just relegated to being a Whatchamacallit.