I admit to having lofty expectations, a bull-headed sense of taste, and an ugly, exaggerated mean streak. But in spite of that, I’ll swear to whatever deity you want me to that I tried to like Baltimore-based Rocket Transfer Warehouse. They seemed like such nice guys, and I felt really compelled to say something positive—I did! I listened to the album a bunch of times, and inched at caterpillar pace toward judgment. But, since I’m merely a conduit for The Musical Truth, a lowly servant to the demanding and discriminating listener, I owe it to you—the reader, the reason for my writing—to do what’s just, without remorse or coddling.
So, to preface, I don’t think Rocket Transfer Warehouse is necessarily a bad band, or that Arrival is a horrible album. The songs have a contagious energy, the kind that probably gives their tipsy bar patrons fans (they play local clubs in their area) a reason to get up and dance. I’ve bet the guys have a smattering of collegiate fans, and they probably rock out their performances with a lot of heart and soul. Their cutesy melodic lines, understandable songs and trickless guitar, bass and drum lines are evenly matched and tied up nicely. You can almost see the big red bow.
I’d probably love them if I were in high school, stuck in a small town, with only the free arts festival and the few-and-far-between all ages shows to quench my thirst for live shows. Now, now: I say that not to be snide, but rather because growing up in a town like I did (Lansing, Michigan), I encountered 10 or 15 Rocket Transfer Warehouses. They put out some local releases, played a lot of shows, and had a relatively big following. But how many of you out there have heard of Mystic Shake or Botfly? My point exactly. Looking back at my favorite bands of yesteryear, they were pretty big busts. And Rocket Transfer Warehouse, like Botfly and Mystic Shake, simply don’t have the innovation, the penache, the gimmick, or the talent, to go that far past their lovely Maryland stomping ground, or be understood and accepted by people who don’t experience them with thoroughly hometown senses.
Here’s what I think their basic problem is: strained and sharping vocals, mixed up styles that comes off as schizophrenic rather than avant garde, silly, frilly lyrics, and too-safe musicianship. (Ouch! Oh gosh, I really am sorry. I am!) None of the songs leave you with anything different to say, and they don’t play “the same old thing” very well either. Take “It’s Not Your Fault”, a fine enough tune that opens with a Velocity Girl-esque guitar solo, and some rather pleasant “ooos”. As Gary (or is it Greg?) Maragos coos—inoffensively enough—I think we’ve got something okay on our hands. Not fabois, but okay. Then, the chorus and—goddamn!—a note that is physically torturous to listen to. Well, shucks. Or “Something Out of Nothing” which easily could double as a single by Barbie and The Rockers, masculinely rendered. Plainly put, 99% of the songs sound like TV theme songs—skeletal, chintzy, and hollow.
Not every band should want to be wildly popular, and there’s nothing wrong with being a local indie band. Believe me, I like a lot of those groups, and I think it’s important and vital (and often, better) when bands are organically produced, and have a luscious and creative sound that remains connected to their roots. But that’s not where Rocket Transfer Warehouse is—they’re more in the game of the hokey-pokey and the sound of the mall.