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The Strangest Things

(RCA; US: 18 Mar 2003; UK: 24 Feb 2003)

They look like the Strokes. They’re friends with the Strokes. They’re on the same label as the Strokes. They’re from New York like the Strokes. If it looks like the Strokes and walks like the Strokes, does it sound as good as the Strokes? In the case of Longwave, the answer is a resounding “no”.

I don’t mean to go overboard on the compare/contrast game with New York’s biggest band, but Longwave would do themselves a favor if they got Julian Casablancas more drunk than usual and stole his songwriting recipes. In short, Longwave is missing the punch that makes an album rattle and hum (to borrow a phrase from their self-proclaimed heroes, U2). That’s not to say it won’t confound you into thinking there must be something there.

Alas, we listeners are chasing a ghost. While the record launches with the promising “Wake Me When It’s Over”, the rest of the album slowly tumbles until the title command of track one becomes reality for the listener. The opening minute of “Wake Me” quakes in a mix of ambiance and pulse. Likewise, other tracks begin with a musical gusto that gets the head nodding and the foot tapping. About halfway through each song, however, I found my body slouched and my mind rambling. There was just something missing every time I put The Strangest Things into a CD player near me. A short time after each opening salvo, I forgot what was piping out from the speakers. Searching for the CD, I gained recognition when I saw the word “Longwave”. Two minutes later, I’d forget again. Either I had developed short-term memory loss or something was missing in the music.

I thought a listen in the car might help and sure enough, my hands tapped the steering wheel while my head swayed through that opening minute. Yet, before I knew it, I was calculating the minutes and mileage of my drive, once again immune to the sound. Then it hit me—it’s the voice. Lead singer Steve Schiltz has such an unrelenting and consistent monotone that it subtracts from any gains the music may have produced. A song like “Everywhere You Turn” demands a certain amount of vocal push to the tuneful pull. But Shiltz’s delivery fails at every turn to compete with the verdant guitar work. I wanted him to commit to just one of the tracks with some passion instead of casually loping behind the rhythm. Without a booster shot of life in the vocals, The Strangest Things lingers without really saying anything. Taken on their own, tunes like “Pool Song” and “Tidal Wave” are hip songs to listen to while getting a tan. In the midst of a 12-song record though, they sink under the weight of their own drone. The overrated Flaming Lips producer David Fridmann only adds to the problematic nature of the record by adding atmosphere to songs that cry out for energy.

Maybe it’s not their fault that the readily apparent Joy Division-influence has permeated one too many bands of the new era. Songs tend to drift where they should wallop, which is fine for about three songs before “hypnotic” turns to “languid.” As with many groups aping the Cure these days (I’m looking at you New York!), the musicianship is more than solid. Time and time again, however, it’s missing the motor of rock ‘n’ roll. Excuse me for asking, but where the hell is the fun in this music? Give me the Mooney Suzuki’s careening live-wire or the Strokes’ assaulting melody. At least then you won’t have to wake me when it’s over.

Tim Slowikowski has been writing for PopMatters since the halcyon days of 2003. His favorite record that year was Outkast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below. A graduate of the University of Iowa, Tim has also written for Chicago Innerview and Kevin Smith's now-defunct (and unfortunately titled) Movie Poop Shoot. Tim studied at Chicago's famous haven for improv and sketch comedy, Second City, where he formed a comedy group and traveled across the country performing for the unwashed masses. Currently shopping a screenplay with the rest of America, Tim lives in Chicago with his wife Megan.

Tagged as: longwave
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