Got a taste for plain vanilla? Then take a listen to Paper Dolls And Paper Plates by Washington D.C.‘s Fear of Commitment. There’s nothing really bad about this album, but there’s nothing really great about it either. You’ve probably heard a lot of similar sounding indie label music like this plenty of times over. Fear Of Commitment is the kind of folky band that most every college town has; jangly guitars, loose and steady rhythms, and of course, a female lead singer. In this case, those duties fall to guitarist and lead vocalist Sara Knab, guitarist and bassist Niall Hood, and drummer Ken Zalewski.
The usual comparisons have been drawn here. If you guessed that such acts as R.E.M., The Cowboy Junkies, and Natalie Merchant would be cited as similar sounding artists, then you’d have hit the nail on the head. But Fear of Commitment never comes across as solidly as any of those bigger groups. They have the ideas down and a partial feel for that kind of groove, but it’s hard to picture groups like these ever getting away from the coffee house scene (Fear of Commitment are favorites at local DC venues Madam’s Organ and Franklyn’s Coffee House).
A lot of the problem rests within Knab’s vocals. She starts out fine on such songs as the perky “She’s Won” and “Absolutely Everything”, but all too often her voice starts wandering around into off-key territory. Some bands can pull this off and still sound enjoyable. Fear Of Commitment, cannot, and Knab’s off-kilter singing causes the guitars to sound out of tune as well, as the guitars and vocals do not mix when she starts meandering around the musical scales.
It’s too bad, because these guys have a sound that’s not too far off from Tsunami’s lighter stuff. But where Tsunami has always had strong vocals to match their music, Fear of Commitment fall a few steps behind. On the musical side of things, the band could stretch out a bit more. So many of these songs, like the slower “Thirteen Years” and “Wrong Face”, and the more upbeat “Times Have Changed” and “Gone Away” all start sounding the same—the same rhythms, the same chords, the same tone to Knab’s voice—there’s just not a lot of variety here. The worst cut has tobe “Angel”, which features Hood on lead vocals. A note to the band: let Knab handle the vocals at all times even if she isn’t the strongest singer in the world.
As it stands, Paper Dolls And Paper Plates is harmless stuff. While Fear of Commitment is a quite capable band, Knab and her partners don’t seem to have any more rungs on their ladder. Perhaps with time they could grow a bit stronger, but don’t expect this album to land in your “most played” pile.