Can you take me back where I came from?
Bands like The Other 99 inevitably get compared to bands that came before them. In this case, you are supposed to be reminded of R.E.M., Crowded House, The Beatles, and Matthew Sweet. Hmmm. I’ve noticed that whenever an indie band gets compared to Sweet anymore, they don’t sound a bit like him. So it goes for The Other 99. I do however have a couple other groups that they’ll be able to name-drop in the future. More on that in a moment, though.
The Other 99 hails from New York, having formed from the remains of two other groups, Tabula Rasa and Plaid. Featuring Jeff Epstein on lead vocals and guitar, Chris Flynn on guitar, Alan Katz on drums, and Sean Seymour on bass, the group creates a blend of melancholic pop and bittersweet harmony across the nine tracks on At the Eleventh Hour. This is the kind of album that you might play when pining over some lover for days on end or after you’ve broken up with that person or when you’re just having one of those days. Don’t look for too much sunshine here, as The Other 99 seem to like to make music created specifically for a rainy day (and maybe even a Monday).
Now about those groups that I hear echoes of when I listen to this album. Hearing songs like the pensive “The Warning” and the labored “Smokescreen”, I often get flashes of being back in high school and remembering some of those bands that the alternative rock-loving drama queens would swoon over. Stuff like the Judybats or Toad the Wet Sprocket. That kind of sound. The kind of music that the attention hungry/clove smoking crowd would play and swear to you that this was indeed “deep”. But I always liked a bit of power with my pop, a bit of rock with my roll. It’s not bad music by any means, but it could just be a little more. I shudder when visions of coffeehouses dance through my head to these tunes.
The never-ending chorus at the end of “In Your Eyes” especially wore me out. Just how many times can you sing those three words? Sometimes the use of repetition is a rule that should be broken in the three-minute pop song format. But not everything here makes you sigh. The opening “Happy”, “Better View”, and the closing “Corner of Your Heart” represent the one-third of the album that is playful and all smiles. At least the change in tempo would seem to indicate such a proposition. But I fear that the group’s own seriousness could weigh even these moments down.
I don’t know. There’s just something about The Other 99 the just doesn’t click. As I said it’s not “bad”. I just don’t think that it’s for me. Certainly Epstein’s singing is full and powerful when it needs to be, and extremely soft and gentle at all the other right moments. The rest of the band is nice and tight, throwing in a slight R.E.M. jangle here and there, but I’m not really sure if you would heap this band into an overall jangle pop pile. They do seem to have large aspirations what with their solid and well-produced sound and tunes that evoke memories of 1991.
For those who like their music on that side of the street, then I’m sure you could do no wrong by going out and grabbing a copy of At the Eleventh Hour. Songs like “Last Juliet” and “Over It” should cure any cravings for those solitary moments when you just want to listen to a shoulder to cry on as it were. For myself, I just can’t seem to find the way in to this album and really enjoy it like I wanted to, in spite of all the fine performances. Nevertheless, The Other 99 should satisfy all the people who can find that entrance into this work.