Skoda Records—and its founder Patrick O’Donnell—deserve praise for giving the indie-rock community a chance to hear the psycho freakout Czech band Uz Jzme Dona (think the Residents crossed with a vaudeville act, and a taste for dice-rolling randomness). But because O’Donnell’s tastes run to Prague eccentrics doesn’t mean his own songs will mirror his enthusiasms. Nope, Limbo, the first solo album by Skoda’s founder is a relatively tame indie-rock affair—all jangly-crunchy guitars and throaty vocals. It is the platonic ideal of a vanity project; it’s sincere and his friends probably love it.
“Move over Robert Smith, and also Morrissey”, that’s the second line of the opening track, “Spring Day”. You get happy guitar power chords popping off like red cap paper, a solo played on an acoustic guitar (I think), an unembarrassed singer singing from his larynx, and a general happy atmosphere of chaos and poetry. Fine stuff, very evocative of a spring day. But neither Robert Smith nor Morrissey will move over for it.
Trained as a lawyer, O’Donnell also has an unfortunate tendency to sing like a lawyer. He does his best to overcome this weakness on semi-raucous tunes like “I Just Wanna Degrade You” and “General Depression”, where he strides confidently up to the mike and barks lyrics in his best David Gedge approximation. (Yeah, Gedge, but he’s obviously thinking Ian Curtis—he even gives the game away with a cover of “Isolation” that’s more karaoke than reinterpretation). But when he slows things down a bit, he forces us to stop bobbing our heads and pay attention to what’s coming out of his throat. The words are usually okay, but he really just doesn’t put ballads across as well as he does the confident neo-noir janglefests. Nothing new there, right?
Ever wonder whether a song is actually intended as a joke? I’m still wondering about “Love Songs Make Me Nauseous”, mostly because the title is so ambiguous. Its chord changes are the most memorable on the album (although you might recognize them from the Cure’s Head on the Door), and the lyrics are about what you would expect. But if the song is a joke, the punch line is “Everything About You Reminds Me of You (Except for the Look in Your Eyes)”, an affecting, yet strikingly banal love song with flat vocals, wallpaper lyrics, and a pretty violin. This is no “Remember What I Told You to Forget” or even “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song”—yet you can’t help liking its earnest scrabbling for sincerity and permanence.
And that’s about it. Limbo is a vanity project by a competent songwriter with more enthusiasm than talent in performance. I wish he were crazier, more charismatic, or at least harder to ignore—but this is judging him by indie-rock criteria. It’s a likable album by a likable lawyer, and it will certainly start no brush fires in the music community (the other artists on his label are busy doing that). Still, with “Spring Day” he does add one more swell tune to the world.