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The Birthday Massacre

Looking Glass

(Metropolis; US: 6 May 2008; UK: 12 May 2008)

With Looking Glass, the Birthday Massacre releases yet another EP.  Following on the heels of its full-length album, 2007’s Walking with Strangers, Looking Glass remixes previous tracks in the group’s catalog and tosses in a few new songs.  The operative words being “a few”. 


In spite of the fact that the band has been around for almost ten years, the Birthday Massacre doesn’t have too many albums to its name.  Remixing material from previous albums, this latest eight-song EP helps to pad the group’s catalogue.


The Birthday Massacre seems to suffer from Pretty Boy Floyd Syndrome.  No, not the famed Depression-era bank robber that Woody Guthrie immortalized in song.  I’m referring to a C- or D-list ‘80s hair metal band of the same name.  The Pretty Boy Floyd in question made a career out of re-releasing ever-so-slightly revamped versions of songs from its first album, Leather Boyz with Electric Toyz (and you wonder why they were on the D-list?), by tossing on a new song or two alongside previously recorded material or re-mastered demos on full-length albums and EPs for the better part of a decade. 


Granted, the Birthday Massacre may not be (and this is still debatable) nearly as big a transgressor of this practice as Pretty Boy Floyd, but it is guilty of rehashing material from previous albums over the course of the almost ten years the band’s been together. While the Birthday Massacre’s sound is about as far removed from hair metal as you can get, the closest the industrial/goth/trance/electronica outfit comes to the genre is a tinge of ‘80s dance pop throwback shading. Having gotten its start in 1999 under the name Imagica, the band changed its name to the Birthday Massacre, building a following on the Ontario club scene before taking the show on the road, releasing a demo that hit corners of the United States, South America, and eventually Europe.


Although the the Birthday Massacre’s sound could best be described as a mix of gothic, industrial, and pop, the industrial factor has been amplified by the presence of fellow Canadian Dave Ogilvie, who has remixed and produced for the likes of Skinny Puppy, Marilyn Manson, and Nine Inch Nails.


On this latest batch of remixes with a few new songs thrown in, the Birthday Massacre continues in its vein of ethereal industrial, made even more otherworldly by the breathy vocals of the group’s sweet-voiced female lead singer, Chibi. Boasting only three brand new songs, one of which could hardly be considered a new song and another a cover, Looking Glass leads off with an untouched version of the nihilistic title track as originally heard on Walking with Strangers.  While the group hasn’t broken out and away into the mainstream enough for the masses to instantly pin-down its signature sound, the sextet lays definitive ground on the strength of this kick-off track.


One of the three new songs on the Looking Glass EP, the instrumental “Nowhere” goes (quite literally) nowhere.  Serving as an ambient two minutes worth of windswept synthesizer riffs languishing in repetition limbo, the track can’t even qualify as industrial-flavored trance at its finest.  It holds little purpose on the disc other than to act as filler material bridging two different remixes of “Red Stars” together and bloat the track listing to an even eight tracks.  Speaking of bloated, the nearly seven-minute Space Lab remix of “Red Stars” is gratuitous at best, floating in an eerily foggy and tedious formaldehyde haze, sucking up precious space on the disc. 


The EP’s final new track is a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now”, later re-popularized by teen queen Tiffany.  Although it’s a cover track, the Birthday Massacre finds itself completely at home and within its element.  More than just a cover of a cover, “I Think We’re Alone Now” brings out the synth-flavored retro-pop factor of the band’s sound with its sparkling, crystalline version of the song.  Chibi’s breathless vocals, Owen’s synth riffs, and Rainbow’s soft-spoken guitar parts jive together to recreate the Birthday Massacre’s true sound, rescuing it from the remixed perdition passing itself off as an EP. 


Although the band has yet to crack mainstream consciousness, still inhabiting the dark underground of rivet-headed industrial-electronica aficionados, the band’s glimmering cover take and the title track are emblematic of the sound that Birthday Massacre fans have come to embrace. The rest of the material on Looking Glass seems to exist as just a clever tactic to keep the band—working on its next full-length—on the fans’ radar and pad the band’s catalog with another EP, instead of what would have otherwise been a glorified promo disc release of a single.

Rating:

Lana Cooper has written various reviews and features for PopMatters since 2006. She's also written news stories for EDGE Media, a nationwide network devoted to LGBT news and issues. In 2013, she wrote her first novel, Bad Taste In Men, described as one part chick lit for tomboys and one part Freaks and Geeks for kids who came of age in the mid-'90s. She lives in Philadelphia and enjoys spending time with her family, reading comic books, and avoiding eye contact with strangers on public transportation. A graduate of Temple University, Cooper doesn't usually talk about herself in the first person, but makes an exception when writing an author bio.


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The Birthday Massacre - Looking Glass
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