Something For Kate: Echolalia

[15 April 2003]

By Jason MacNeil

Known and praised in their native Down Under, as well as gobbling up nearly every critic’s award from Australian music circles, Something For Kate are basically unknown elsewhere. But with a large effort, including this double disc, the trio of lead singer and songwriter Paul Dempsey, Stephanie Ashworth on guitar, and drummer Clint Hyndman are intent on changing that. Although the title, which refers to a mental disorder that expresses itself in a form of constant mimicking, is a bit odd, the music certainly isn’t. The sound, resembling at times Bush recreating itself, is interesting. But like any double album, there is some filler obviously resonating.

The opening “Stunt Show” has a definite Bush leaning to it, especially in Dempsey’s vocals. But what seems to put it over the top is the simple and subtle touches on the music, from the acoustic guitar to the use of keyboards. “Three Dimensions” is down beat and throws the occasional curveball at the listener. The majority of the track is radio rock though, with great harmonies as Dempsey rounds it out. Unfortunately “Jerry, Stand Up” lacks the knockout punch that it needs to succeed. Downbeat to a fault without leveling out, the guitars aren’t as prominent as they should be. “Monsters” gets off to a good start although the stop and start drums diminish the attempt. And the chorus is a bit lightweight in terms of sound.

The early portion of the record shows a rather slick and produced sound that might be better live, but here reeks of studio perfection. In the press notes, Stephanie Ashworth says they’re passionate and “agonize over everything.” If they loosened up a bit sonically, as they do on the slow and somber “You Only Hide….”, the result would be better. The trio can be audibly visualized playing together here and it’s magical. The wordy “Feeding the Birds and Hoping for Something in Return” begins with a Civil War drumbeat before Dempsey takes it on a different pattern, similar to David Gray with an electric guitar. “Twenty Years” is the best song on the first disc, a mix of roots pop but with more urgency to it. “Say Something” continues this sense of urgency, picking up the beat and making the guitar an integral part of the song. The handclaps are another small but great part of the track, giving it a shot of liveliness.

Produced by Trina Shoemaker, who has worked with Queens of the Stone Age and Sheryl Crow, the band has a very radio-friendly and single-friendly tone. But like Crow, sometimes it’s too slick. “Happy Endings”, with its minimal bass line, is the perfect time for Something For Kate to let go, but they don’t. Tight almost to a fault, the group tends to miss the mark here. It’s as if they’re playing music, but sounding like it’s a job to them, not the fun it probably started out as. “Seasick” is a perfect example of this, although it’s one of the few times a guitar solo is heard.

The second disc, which consists of live renditions of the first disc as well as other material, is a bit rougher around the edges. Bonus CD-ROM footage is also here, but the songs on the disc are heartfelt. Dempsey gives one of the best performances on the record during “Whatever You Want”. “Tonight you do not have a monopoly on the truth,” he sings over a tender bass and drum. “Pinstripe” is tougher albeit for a brief introduction. “It’s a simple joy you can bring on yourself,” Dempsey sings. Too bad they couldn’t take those words to heart. The closing hints at what could be, but it’s too little too late. “Captain” maintains the status quo (not the band) while bringing a Nickelback guitar to it and some excitement as does “Electricity”, which is, er, electric. The live material works better thankfully. Musically and lyrically the band sound great. Great songs and melodies. Are they having fun? Sure doesn’t sound like it.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/somethingforkate-echolalia/