[19 October 2011]
Psychic Babble is the name Circa Survive guitarist Colin Frangicetto has chosen for his solo project. It’s a name that evokes swirling, psychedelic music, filled with synths and with at least a couple of the spacier tracks lingering past the eight-minute mark. The reality bears very little resemblance to the preconceived notions, however. Album opener “Five Fold Kiss (Don’t Sleep)” begins with washes of synth and a quickly moving click track, but then it settles right into a mid-tempo indie-pop song with a backbone of quiet, icy guitars. The synths and clicks come back after the chorus, but disappear after that, leaving an adequate song anchored by Frangicetto’s vocal refrain, “Don’t sleep / Don’t sleep / Don’t sleep tonight.” It’s not a bad song by any means, but it doesn’t have a lot of personality. That pretty much describes every song on My Brother’s Ears / My Sister’s Eyes.
If you’re at all a fan of the broad mix of styles that fall under the umbrellas of “indie rock” and “indie pop”, you’ve been hearing variations on this album for the better part of a decade. Nothing about the album sets it apart from anything else on the indie-pop spectrum. Frangicetto is a serviceable singer, but his voice isn’t particularly distinctive or compelling. There’s nothing challenging in his song construction. It’s all verse-chorus-verse stuff, with an occasional bridge or solo thrown in. That would be fine, except he doesn’t seem to have the melodies or riffs, or even just plain hooks, to make Psychic Babble stand out as something particularly catchy. There isn’t anything here to make the listener sit up and pay attention, so it quickly becomes background music.
Fragicetto occasionally changes things up from his slightly dreamy indie-pop template, but not enough to make much difference. “Samantha” is slowed-down, with jangly guitars, harmonica, and even slide guitar. It has the feel of a country-style track, but there’s no passion in Fragicetto’s vocals to really sell the song. “You Said It” is upbeat, with some nicely arranged ‘80s-style synths driving it. It’s one of the better songs on the album because the synths carry a lot of the melodies. “Follow Your Bliss” may be the best song here, and it’s no coincidence that it’s the one track where Fragicetto fully commits to the dream-pop vibe he’s been nudging at for the rest of the album. The verses of the song feature lush synth chords, strummed acoustic guitar, and quiet banjo in the background. The chorus is driven by a jittery guitar riff and the repeated refrain, “If you follow your bliss / follow your bliss.” Some nicely placed harmony makes it the closest thing the album has to a memorable chorus, and it’s the one spot where it all comes together for Psychic Babble.
Weirdly, the most interesting parts of My Brother’s Ears / My Sister’s Eyes are the oddball interludes that come, seemingly random and unrelated, near the ends of some tracks. “Radio Songs” has a spoken-word bit in the outro, as a man discusses being sober, but very, very tired. The same voice returns again, always at the end of songs, doing an odd speak-singing thing that seems like a stream of consciousness. It’s a genuinely strange thing on an album that isn’t nearly strange enough. With all the by-the-numbers indie-pop going on during the rest of the album, I found myself wanting to hear more of these rants, no matter how badly sung they are.
If there’s an audience out there for this album, it’s going to be mostly hardcore Circa Survive fans who want to follow what every band member is doing. As an indie-pop album, My Brother’s Ears / My Sister’s Eyes is nothing even slightly special. But Circa Survive has a pretty strong following, and I could see some of those fans who mostly stick to the metal-progressive-hardcore styles of music finding this album to be a breath of fresh air. To the rest of us, though, Psychic Babble is going to seem run of the mill. The press materials for this album tout that it was five years in the making. It’s a good thing that Frangicetto has a gig in a full-time band as an excuse, because otherwise taking five years to create something this mediocre would be pretty embarrassing.