Hey, Spyglass, why don’t you just lighten up a little bit? Nine songs here on this Strategies for the Stranded and they all make me want to get moody and drink coffee and become existential or something. Damn. It’s a good thing I’m not too fond of coffee. I’d hate to wind up as one of those writers who equates coffee with an interesting personality. Tell me, kids, are the days of the esoteric coffee shops filled with esoteric bookshelves and their esoteric books that you could read while sitting on a plush and retro-colored sofa (no doubt bought with all that overpriced coffee) still here? Or have they vanished, only to leave us with bands that make us ponder such things?
Did I lose you? I may have lost myself there. I believe we were talking about Spyglass. Ah, yes. The moody album. The lead singer is one Barbara Trentalange, who reminds me of a cross between Julia Fordham and Amanda Thorpe. The band’s music, however, reminds me of . . . well, it’s original, but it’s just too damn bogged down in its own seriousness. They sound kind of like a doom-laden late night lounge act. Yeah, you can picture the smoke, the haze, the general ennui of the crowd. Or is that just my ennui?
According to guitarist John Roth, the songs on the album all supposedly have to do with “constructive and deconstructive ways people cope with being stuck”. Of course. Being stuck. Stuck is definitely how the band sounds on “This Heaven” as Barbara clicks her castanets and sings “On the top of this roof, I got all of the proof I’m gonna need / Jennifer said I’m out of my head, but I gotta see”. Roth’s droning one note organ wails on mercilessly as Clay Martin’s bass tangles with Barry Shaw’s leaden drumming that thuds as deeply as Trentalange’s vocals.
I do like the song “China Doll” in its attempts to buzz and howl, like a stripped away My Bloody Valentine. It’s the only song on the album that breaks away from Barbara’s same-sounding melodies and Roth’s plain vanilla guitar work. I understand that the band is going for a more sparse-sounding element on this album, but things actually begin to heat up a bit when they let loose as on this track. Otherwise, you’re stuck with the coldness of “Photograph” and “Dimming Stars” that cover you like last week’s dirty sheets. You don’t really want them there, and a change would surely do you some good.
But Spyglass isn’t about taking chances or even cultivating the predictable sounds that they do manage to form into songs. Tracks like “Laura Tate” and “Arch” become stale well before they should. But after hearing the opening track (“This Heaven”), you get the feeling that the band never goes anywhere. Given the fact that the damn thing is under three minutes, this is not a good sign. But things don’t change at all, leaving only “China Doll” the single breath of fresh air on an otherwise smoky album. One quickly begins to sympathize with the poor ant featured on the cover of the disc that is trapped under a jar turned upside down. There’s little air, and hopefully someone will come around to fix the problem.
That problem is easily solved by just pressing “stop”. I did want to get into Strategies for the Stranded, but I was never able to. Hoping for sounds and musical emotions that just weren’t going to be there finally got tiresome. It appears that Spyglass has perhaps unintentionally locked themselves into a room with no way out. A bit of tinkering around with their songs and an opening up of their overall sound should help matters next time around, if indeed there is a next time.
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