[8 September 2010]
PopMatters PopLocal Features Editor
There is something alluring about the cover art for We Have Band’s pseudo-eponymous debut, WHB. Black and silver microphones snake across a reflective, myriad yellow sheen, and the band’s name is printed in simple, linear capitals across the top. The recording has a similar quality. Warm bass and synth lines propel the songs forward and dispassionate vocals cocoon the listener in soft, subtle reverb. The arrangements are pretty and pleasant. The only problem is that, like its cover imagery, the ease and wealth of the album’s sound feels a bit senseless, a bit empty. The chill party vibe that radiates from WHB may not seem to require any founding profundity, and for the most part, it scrapes by on the sheer goodwill of its ambiance; but after a while, the tracks start to blend together, and the 45 minute running time starts to feel like a chore.
Album opener “Piano” and closer “Hero Knows” both sound like a different note, the first a sultry, muddled exposition of the group’s syrupy textures and choral chants, and the second is a catchy, straight-shouldered pop song with a raw, playful guitar part. It’s when the trio lays on an extra layer that challenges the song’s more digestible fabric that its music really shines, but these moments are fleeting.
Everything in between works more predictable territory, though not without sporadic success. The sly, electronic attack of “Honeytrap” rocks the opening vocals very nearly into a head-banging rap, and the chorus culminates as a sliding shout—“This is/This is/This is A honeytrap”—egged on by the spitting commands of the back up vocalists: “Line up/Clap hands/Let’s go”. “Divisive”, too, ratchets up the band’s energy into a dynamic vocal cascade as they chant, “You take me out this way/You take me out this way” and “We’re all/Divisive”.
We Have Band does its best to make the vocal sounds anonymous and almost mechanical, so WHB relies on repetition, combination, and an occasional instrumental flair to give the album personality. The title track utilizes all three: a garrulous guitar spins from the looped beat and the three vocalists blend their voices for the chorus’ final, breathy, and cyclical rendition. The result is a snarky, concise, and playfully narcissistic romp epitomized by the guilty admission, “We Have Band”, whispered mischievously during the bridge by Dede W-P, the band’s female member.
When these steadfast devices fail, however, there’s not much left to hold the song up. “Oh!” takes up the titular monosyllable as rhythmic anchor as well as expressive ornament. The track is as cloying and simple-minded as you might expect. Others like “Hear It In the Cans” and “Buffet” founder amid similar difficulties, more for a lack of spunk than a formal failing.
There’s no question that WHB is fun. Who wouldn’t enjoy basking in the arbitrarily yellow glow of a dozen corded microphones as they pump out the funky apathy of “Love, What You Doing?” or the danceable absurdity of “You Came Out”? It would only be so long, though, before you began to wonder who put them there in the first place, and quite possibly more importantly, why they exist.