I rarely look or judge an album, or a book for that matter, by its cover, but there’s something rather interesting and uncanny about the Southland’s visual offering on its latest album. The image is of a downtown area but with each building, tree, road, and off-ramp all coordinated into a paint- or color-by-numbers scheme. And despite the colors you could use to bring this imaginary metropolis to life, The Southland uses five hues only: steel grey, dull gray, concrete gray, greenish gray, and grayish green. Don’t let that fool you: There is a lot of initial color to this baker’s dozen of songs, thanks in large part to the quintet’s use of alluring, invigorating and somewhat downtrodden alt. rock/indie pop melodies. Just using the first half-minute of “Shadow” as a measuring stick, the Southland might have recorded this song in a room plastered with faded promotional posters of Pornography and Disintegration. There is no gloss or slickness on the song, just a fluidity and consistency. And you can envision them down in their steel grey basement rehearsing and fleshing out this fine piece of work. Enjoy while you can though…
It’s not all one guitar jangle after another with this album, as “305” surrounds itself with a somewhat nifty, left-field melody that is in line with They Might Be Giants or Violent Femmes. Drummer Andrew Crane Crosby is the foundation of this song, with some intricate backbeats and fills, moving from pop to a slightly jazzy groove in the bridge. Here the Southland is neither mellow nor cutting edge or ragged, keeping a happy medium between the two. “Miles” tends to venture into “Shadow” turf with its somewhat darker arrangement, tight rhythm section and Depeche Mode-like electronic sound coming into and out of the song throughout. The Southland is right at home in this genre, not really working up a sweat but making sure that each note counts for something. The Southland definitely head south on the mediocre, yawn-inducer “Aftermath”, which tries to rock out but is buried under a backbeat that misses the mark.
One of the stranger yet pleasing moments comes when the band offer up the standard “I Only Have Eyes for You”, complete with the slow swaying waltz blueprint and the doo-wop harmonies. No instruments are really needed here, but they build the chorus up nicely before bringing it back to a bare lead vocal and the backing vocalists, many of whom you could picture snapping their fingers or doing simple choreography in their loud gold suits. From there they bring back the band and build a nice but somewhat airy wall of sound. It seems to be a nice intro into the lighter, roots pop of “Each His Own”, with a subtle supporting vocal. The only problem though is by this time, the indie or alt. rock idea you thought they were oozing out of every pore is instead replaced with a warm, Californian, sandy beach groove that is nice but lacks any real punch or wallop. Even the title of this perfect example “Shining Sun” pretty much sums it up as they talk about addicts trying to score some crystal meth. It’s about the only substance that comes close to a rock as this record hits its homestretch. “Creatures” is terribly mellow, as surfing and San Tropez are mentioned over a song that could be described as “surf jam”.
The album is salvaged in several spots, especially on the ear candy and adventurous “Debris”, but the heart of the album leaves you a bit cold, even if it tries its best to warm you with the California sun. It’s good in parts, but a song like “Radio” or the equally mellow “Good Grief” is something I can really do without, thank you very much.