National Eye: The Meter Glows

[19 January 2004]

By Jason MacNeil

The National Eye is a Philly-cum-Colorado group that has been described as post-rock, space-rock, and every little genre in between. The band, which previously has gone with monikers such as Future Eye and, ahem, the Project Project, has released its latest album with a bit more care and aplomb. And it’s with those traits that they have offered this inspiring and at times magical bit of rock music to the mini-masses.

With the term “an optic clang” used to explain the sound, the band’s opening number “I Ran Into Him” sounds like Eric Burdon pinch-hitting for Thom Yorke. The slow and brooding drum beat is buried just as much in the mix as the ‘60s-era vocal delivery. Some fine guitar work enters the bridge as it moves into a spacey Wilco-meets-Pink Floyd arrangement courtesy of guitarist Rick Flom. It’s the sort of tune that is definitely divided into segments and moods. “Big Animals” is more present-day, although the sound evokes early ‘70s progressive rock; taking a while to get going and having the same keyboard sound as Aerosmith’s “Dream On”, the tune merits repeated listens. Harmony vocals kick in, but they don’t add as much as anticipated.

National Eye isn’t afraid to experiment, but sometimes it comes across with less than enjoyable results. “Copy of a Copy” has some technical noodling, while the vocals are more of a lounge lizard or jazz feeling. The tune sounds like it’s ready for the graveyard, bringing to mind “Seamus” from Pink Floyd’s Meddle. The only saving grace on that track was the howling dog, which National Eye does not have on this one. Trying to create some semblance of tension later on, it seems misdirected and painful at times. But this is forgotten on the opening notes of “New Cinema River Murder Ballad”, a simplistic organ-driven song that brings Neil Young immediately to mind. This moves into a ragged and dirty sounding “Friday Afternoon Theem”, which has enough primitive guitar riffs to give Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground a run for their money.

The dichotomy the group displays is possibly its biggest asset, as it has taken a myriad of influences to incorporate into its own sound. The pretty yet subtle “Radium Glow” is quite different than the previous song, with characters named John and Mary Lynn being used to great effect. A series of backing vocals and special effects are added, making this a real trip, hallucinogens or not! The band loses the plot again, though, with a sub-par “Corridor”, which could be mistaken for the Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But they throw things back together with “Spies”, a piano-driven ditty that brings images of Schroeder from Peanuts to mind, banging on the miniature baby grand piano. And it evolves into a longer and gorgeous Ben Folds-esque ballad. It ends up being the record’s true sleeper.

A lot of the music seems to be, how shall we say, drug-induced. But it’s not what you think. “We’ve been influenced by music that was made on drugs,” Flom said to a Philadelphia magazine. “There is a sort of narcotic transference there.” “Dracula’s Always with Me” is such a tune—a creepy and eerie Elliott Smith-like track that has a wobbly barroom feeling. “And I am blessed with many friends”, the line goes to a swaying rhythm. Only on “Just a Dream”, which again harks back to Young circa Harvest, does National Eye sound like a parody. It’s at this point that the record seems to balance itself out, as “Husk & Kettle” is a fabulous Tom Waits-ish number that slowly builds on top of itself. They might not have the eyes of a nation on them after this record, but they should clearly have a few more paying attention!

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