Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Got it? Yeah, I’m with you sister: in a dreamscape like that your first instinct is to toss yourself overboard. Better to hang out with the murky squids than to endure garish banality. I think at this point in music history, the feckless dreamscapes and empty symbols of psychedelia are annoying in themselves, but especially so when yoked to a teen-angst mentality. Distorted Lullabies, the debut album by Ours (the only band ever whose name is a possessive pronoun), unfortunately suffers from this overdose of angst and dreams (although it will certainly appeal to fans of U2 or early Radiohead).
In many ways, Ours thumbs their nose at the critics. Their sound is a humongous stratoliner—overproduced, overdubbed, overscrubbed, safe, and loud. Their lyrics are a comically vague series of clichés about darkness and light, evil and good, butterflies and towers. Lead singer/songwriter Jimmy Gnecco dominates the proceedings with his astonishing voice, which swoops, breathes, and screams with awesome vitality. (Also he sounds almost exactly like Bono.)
The record tries relentlessly to set you afloat on shimmering shards of angst, with layer upon layer of guitar whoosh and vocal gush, kinda like the old Mission U.K records. The opening track, “Fallen Souls”—all Wagnerian soundscapes and echoing vox—commands the listener to “suffer”, a rare example of a non-dance song fulfilling its stated mission on every level. “I’m a Monster” features a lyric about “the sound of a broken man clinging to the legs of a butterfly”, sure to provoke giggles even among the most reverent Smashing Pumpkins fans. The rest of the tunes are all pretty samey—none of them offer any real hooks or lyrics, and they all have similar combinations of vocal pyrotechnics and lyrical banality that will inevitably frustrate the thoughtful listener. Songs like “Medication”, “Bleed”, and “Meet Me in the Tower” don’t even offer the fragments of amusement that their titles promise.
Still, there are two pretty good songs in here. “Dizzy” keeps the orchestrations at a minimum, and strips Gnecco’s voice of echo and distortion, unveiling a heartfelt melody that catches your elbow as you’re busy frowning through the other songs. “Sometimes” is another above-average tune, where the vocal performances and chord progressions inadvertently recall all those good overproduced hooks by oldies bands like Asia, Boston, or Def Leppard. Indeed, Gnecco’s odd resemblance to Brad Delp on those two songs suggests he could turn Ours into a pretty ace retro-Boston prog-schlock outfit if he hired a more ostentatious guitarist. So far, however, Ours just seem too much like distaff U2, something the world certainly doesn’t need these days. If you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll probably dig this album though.