The stories about artists who cloister themselves in the name of creation are usually great. The Standard, in their one-sheet, certainly heighten expectations. The story of Wire Post to Wire finds four men working at the same Long Island seafood restaurant for 60 to 70 hours a week; living together in a one-bedroom house across the street and practicing whenever they could. After dropping their sophomore album, August on Touch & Go Records two years ago, and having it go largely unnoticed, the Standard spent two years living, working, and writing together to craft Wire Post to Wire.
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Wire Post to Wire, while a formidable effort, is surprisingly forgettable, and at times downright frustrating. With nine songs clocking in at 50 minutes, the compositions are epic in scope, with the shortest song running at just under four minutes. Musically, the Standard offer up an inspired dose of indie rock filtered through classic rock radio. All the ingredients are here for a great record: solid musicianship, interesting songwriting and good production. However, it wasn’t until my second run through the CD that I put my finger on what exactly was bothering me about Wire Post to Wire.
Musically, the songs are definitely exciting however they are brought down by singer Tim Putnam’s vocals. Sounding like a nervous, high-strung Geddy Lee, Putnam’s high-pitched, quivering vocals are instantly grating. Their overbearing presence in the mix doesn’t help matters and detracts from any enjoyment to be gleaned from the musicianship. If the listener cannot anchor themselves to the vocals, they are instantly lost in these already heady songs. As each song swells and sweeps, Putnam’s vocals remain largely unchanged. Putnam attempts a speak/sing delivery that favors singers like Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse) so well, but unfortunately his need to enunciate each and every syllable of every word strips his vocals of any personality.
Musically, the band is spot on. The guitars soar and swing with a buzzing intensity and the keyboard work of Jay Clarke adds much needed dimension and texture to the songs. The opening track “Metropolitan” finds the guitars marching like soldiers, weaving in and out of each other beautifully. “Unicorns and Chemicals”—the album’s shortest track—is also one of its best. Putnam’s vocals are thankfully retrained, Clarke’s keyboards swirl beautifully in this lush, sentimental number. Closing track finds the band pulling a page out of Jim O’Rourke’s production notes for Wilco, offering up a distinctly off-kilter finish to the album. It’s an interesting moment that is unfortunately not repeated on the rest of the album.
Wire Post to Wire is by no means a bad record. Skillfully executed, the Standard have created an album to be proud of, however, it is also an album that will immediately divide listeners. Those who can tolerate Putnam’s unique vocal style will find much to enjoy in the album. Once you’re past the vocals there is a pleasant post-rock album awaiting you that will please fans the Shipping News, June of ‘44 and Bedhead. However, those who are immediately put off by Putnam’s warble will find Wire Post to Wire to be a trying listen.