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Dance a While, Upset

(Deep Elm; US: 6 May 2003; UK: 12 May 2003)

The Settlefish hails from Italy and is most commonly recognized by its ringing guitars, use of sonic dynamics, and a talking/signing manner of communicating. The Settlefish is part of the Emo species, more specifically the Christie Front Drive subspecies, rather than the more common Get Up Kids/Promise Ring subspecies. Comprised of five members—Jonathan Clancy (vocals, guitar, synths), Emilio Torreggiani (guitar), Bruno Germano (guitar, vocals), Phil Soldati (drums), and Stefano Pilia (bass)—the fish was first spotted on the Emo Diaries, Chapter 9 compilation. The Settlefish is introspective and seem to always be longing for something just out of reach.

While the Settlefish is overdramatic, its song can be quite spectacular. For instance the album opener, “Breeze”, begins with minimalist intentions before giving way to cascading guitars that eventually pound the listener through the floor. Showing that the band has a touch for details, the track ends with horns punctuating the din, providing a nice juxtaposition of sounds. “Blindfold the Leaves” features a jittery guitar line that slyly hints that there may be some sunshine in the life of the Settlefish, while “Symmetry Pebbles” takes a bit too long (three minutes) to begin building towards a crescendo that is worth the wait.

Unfortunately, as the name Settlefish may imply, it easily “settles” into patterns of morose atmospherics that take the listener on an endless tour of the color gray. Songs like “Camouflage Iris” and “The Beauty That Corrodes” go nowhere and take too long to get there. This is compounded by Clancy, who clearly can’t sing, and who instead relies on a melodic sort of talking made popular by early ‘90s emo bands. That style is effective when punctuated by ear-shattering screams, but Clancy doesn’t let loose enough. When he does on “Pilot”, the band proves that they can actually shred, showcasing the loud to quiet dynamics best exhibited by Jawbox.

Besides the opener “Breeze”, the other highlights of Dance a While, Upset are “Measures Can Divide” and “Screams at Horizons”. The former is the band’s sole pop number, featuring shimmering guitars reminiscent of Boys Life at their most melodic. The latter is the album’s shortest song, and because the build as well as the crash come sooner, the listener actually gets the jolt that they should.

Judging by their first album Dance a While, Upset, the Settlefish should have no problem thriving in American waters. If it could just learn the art of being succinct, it might really achieve something special.

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