To Out-Pavement, Pavement!
You have to respect a band that begins an album full of oblique genre-defying patchwork songs and snippets of melodic noise with a chorus that pointedly declares that the singer is “Just fuckin’ around”. It is, however, an entirely disingenuous claim, as there is plenty of meaning deep bellow Ticonderoga’s ramshackle compositions on The Heilig-Levine LP. In fact, there may be too much meaning and too many ideas bubbling underneath this album’s surface, conflicting and contradicting each other, resulting in a curious and often glorious mess.
This is my second attempt at cracking the enigma that is Ticonderoga, and while the band’s second album (as compared to its folk-flavored self-titled debut) appears, at least on the surface, to be a more straightforward rock album, a few minutes of listening reveals that the band does not quite know how to rock, preferring to rehash all the signifiers of “rocking out” devoid of any passion or insider knowledge. Ticonderoga plays rock and roll like as if it were a foreigner speaking phonetically spelled-out English on a page, getting all the sounds right but just missing the meaning. Take “Centipede”, the multi-segmented album highlight that starts as a melodic folk-rocker, but somehow recedes into a techno aside, that is then interrupted by an off-tune a-cappella section. In the middle of this schizoid progression, the band finds itself in rock mode, but somehow manages to capture the essence of post-rock without shedding any of rock and roll’s trappings. Electric guitar? Check. Pummeling tempo changes, driven by the drummer? Check. Screaming, untrained vocals? Check, check, double check. Still, it’s all a pose, no matter how loud they crank up the amplifiers. It even seems quiet when it’s loud. “Poison Control”, which sounds a little like Pavement making fun of the Strokes, is perhaps the clearest example of the anti-rock rock-and-roll attitude, as the singer’s lackluster apathy appears to be coming from an entirely different universe than the repetitive trash rock occurring behind him, frustrating the music’s attempt to turn the song into something more conventional.
Even then, these rock songs are the exceptions. The majority of The Heilig-Levine LP is dedicated to melancholy quasi-folk songs that are typically interrupted by abrupt changes of pace. In my previous review I remarked how the band uses dream logic to drive its songs, is not afraid to lose any possible narrative tracks, to jarringly switch thematic gears in seconds’ time, and generally eschews any sense of cause-and-effect logic at any point during a composition. The liner notes for the new album, however, reveal exactly why Ticonderoga’s songs, let alone albums, fail to morph into any sort of recognizable pattern. It turns out that Ticonderoga has no leader, and any track credited to Ticonderoga could feature any combination of the band’s three members (who are not given specific instrument credits). Often a band member takes someone else’s song and adds certain parts to it. It seems to me that many of these tracks were probably stitched together between several people’s short compositions, flung together collage-like in a Frankenstein manner.
The band, apparently, has grown weary of this sort of experimentation, and is looking to create songs in a more straightforward manner. While the results of this current approach, at least the cherry-picked selection represented on The Heilig-Levine LP, are worthwhile and interesting, Ticonderoga will ultimately benefit from a more thought-out, cohesive approach to songwriting. The problem with coming into a creative situation with the thought of “anything can happen”, is that the results are going to reveal the flaws in one’s own creativity. Ticonderoga’s flaw is this, and its debut, is, to quote Yeats, “the center cannot hold”. Very rarely do any of these songs remain consistently entertaining, only certain melodic bits or occasional lyrics remain stuck in one’s head after the album is finished. Over the course of two unconventional albums, Ticonderoga has found a unique sound (or, to be more to the point, about a dozen unique sounds), and now its goal is to perfect it and think about focusing and creating a genuinely consistent and coherent album.