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our brief reviews of new releases
30 November 2005
The Long Winters, Ultimatum EP (Barsuk)
The Long Winters self-describe their new EP Ultimatum as "an epic studio experiment" in which songs are "gilded with string quartets and analog synths," while guitars take a back seat. Listening to the disc after reading that, it's clear that this is the case. But the songs are so strong that the shift in instrumentation didn't even register. No matter, the disc proves that the wonders of this Seattle trio's sophomore long-player, When I Pretend to Fall, were no fluke. It does clearly push the band's sound subtly in new directions, however. There is nothing bombastic here, no grand sing along like "Cinnamon" or "Blue Diamonds" from that previous disc. Instead singer and songwriter John Roderick offers more contemplative songs, with arrangements that highlight his odd melodic constructions and even odder lyrics. The disc revisits "The Commander Thinks Aloud," first heard on the well-intentioned Future Soundtrack for America compilation from 2004. "Ultimatum" is a slower, more contemplative track that takes some time to sink in, while "Delicate Hands" is a quick, piano-driven pop song. "Everything is Talking" features an odd voice sample throughout that sounds like something cooked up on one of those first generation Casio sampler keyboards. It gives the song a clear but annoying hook, and probably has something to do with that whole "studio experiment thing. The EP is rounded out by live solo acoustic versions of When I Pretend's "Bride and Bridle" and the new "Ultimatum." The former shows that there is more to Roderick's songwriting than a few well-placed power chords and soaring vocals, but the latter is the real testament to Roderick's talent. Stripped of all but guitar and voice, the song shines, and is much more successful in this context than "Bride and Bridle," and even trumps the studio version. It's a welcome stop-gap between albums, and whets the appetite for more when the Long Winters return with a full-length disc in the spring.
Exit, The Way Out Is Through (Exit Productions) Rating: 6
Exit, or Ben Londa's one-man band, is a lighter version of something Trent Reznor might have attempted back in '94 or '95. "This Is Your Year" has just enough electro and industrial touches that make it interesting, although the repetition of the title track has a growling kind of voice sounding like a cross between the Cookie Monster and Rammstein. All is not lost, though. "Slip" is at the other end of the musical spectrum -- a somber and reflective tune that brings to mind the Cure circa Bloodflowers. Londa's songs are often hit and miss, the asset in direct proportion to how low his vocals and the arrangements go. Good example of this are "Understanding Our Razing" and "Under", both of which could put you under Londa's spell. At eight songs it's a bit stingy, perhaps, yet the lush, rich texture to the majority of tunes is its biggest selling point. And the almost ethereal "The Anchor in Your Sky" only reinforces that notion.
Pela, All in Time (Brassland) Rating: 3
Now that the World Series is over, baseball metaphors might be a bit out of place but bear with me for one moment. On their debut EP, Pela are like that young kid just up from the minors trying to prove himself in the big leagues. Stepping up to the plate, the kid takes big aggressive swings that yield little results. Indeed, Pela aren't lacking in ambition. In the brief 15-minute running time, the band, at the very least, establishes that their songs are built for arena-sized presentation. But to get there, the band will have to work their way through the club circuit just like everyone else, and unfortunately, while prepping themselves for the big time, Pela have forgotten how to write a memorable song. The five tracks presented on All in Time are fairly pedestrian stabs at the hook heavy, gooey sentimentalism of U2 and Coldplay at their most predictable. However, where those two bands can often deliver genuine moments of soaring beauty than transcend the trappings of their genre, Pela are still working through the basic mechanics of their sound.
Paperface, The Legend of Harley Knowles (Takeover) Rating: 6
Don't be fooled by their horrendous name. Paperface are actually a pretty good pop duo. Perhaps due to their youthful ambition, they attempt to overcome their unseasoned song writing ability and poor production values with sheer exuberance. Sometimes it works. The level of fun on "Loser's Game" is equal to songs on debut records by Ben Folds Five and Weezer. "Fired Up" even hints at Rufus Wainwright influences. The final track, "Dance Karate", is a mindless joy filled with cheesy keyboard tones and Jamiroquai white boy disco. Consistently is not their strong suit, though. Parts of songs are head-scratchingly dull, and "Good Times" never rises above a B-side jam. Wade through the filler, and you're left with a handful of excellent pop songs.
.: posted by Editor 7:53 AM