[30 August 2007]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
So the members of Brooklyn, New York, pseudo indie-rockers the Honorary Title really, really like Elvis Costello and Jeff Buckley. Or at least both their official web site and MySpace pages like to think so. Where they push it is where they claim to actually sound like both of those legendary artists. That’s a bit of a stretch.
But that’s also a good thing. While the influences of both Costello and Buckley run rampant throughout their latest release Scream and Light Up the Sky, the Honorary Title prove to be their own band by fast-forwarding the two legends’ better days 20 or 30 years and adding an element of pop that neither one of those icons could completely grasp.
What does that mean? Well, it means that even though emotionally poignant words glitter the heartrending music much like their influences loved to, you could envision sitting in your car on a rainy Sunday night and hearing the latest Honorary Title single on pop radio. And contrary to what most of their fans would probably like to think, that too is a good thing.
It makes the songs that appear on Scream and Light Up the Sky somewhat more accessible than say, songs like “Radio Radio” or “Everybody Here Wants You”. Where their predecessors wrote classic songs that most people outside of their fan base would never hear, the Honorary Title write great songs that still have a shot at being heard by millions.
And with any luck those songs will be heard by millions because, in essence, they should. With their latest effort, the Honorary Title get as close to perfection as any almost-too- hip-for-their-own-good act can. The album’s melancholy undercurrent, college radio feel, lyrical prowess, and hook-tastic choruses force the world to begin to take notice of Jarrod Gorbel and Aaron Kamstra’s once two-man experiment.
“Stay Away” and “Radiate” showcase Gorbel’s wannabe monotone voice as emotion gets the best of him and translates his disgust into pure pop brilliance. Both songs’ signature guitar lines compel any listener to pay attention for as long as the instrument asks before his voice carries these two could-be hits. The repetitive nature of both ensures a lifetime stay in anyone’s brain.
On the album’s first track, “Thin Layer”, Gorbel transforms his voice to sound a lot like Muse’s Matthew Bellamy and a little like The Killers’ Brandon Flowers. Considering his voice resides over a musical track that could have easily been on both of the aforementioned bands’ latest releases, the song becomes fun to try and decipher which band it sounds like more. And while the battle continues, the sound creates a dazzling blend that becomes greater than its parts.
“Untouched and Intact”, the song that may be the first single from Scream and Light Up the Sky, is the best thing the 1980s didn’t produce. Here, Gorbel makes yet another renovation to his voice by begging someone to compare him to Morrissey and his band to the Smiths. Though the chorus itself is enough to take you back to leg warmers and stonewashed jeans, the song’s verses make you swear you heard it on a college radio station sometime in 1982 between “Radio Free Europe” and “Boys Don’t Cry”.
Then there is the best song the Honorary Title will ever write. “Stuck at Sea” is big enough to be played in any arena across the world and sad enough to make you shed one extra tear knowing a man actually went through this tale of heartbreak in much of the same way you or I ever have. As Gorbel does his absolute best Flowers impression, a line like “I keep burning my fingers in an attempt to rekindle the flame” promises you—in ways not seen on any of the band’s other recordings—that he simply needs a hug.
The hugs then become more imperative as the album sinks into its slower tracks. “Far More” has an acoustic guitar and yet another reincarnation of vocals that suggests a candle lit room and a whole bunch of weeping. “Even If”, Scream and Light Up the Sky‘s swan song, competes for the King of Gloom and Reflection title with nothing but guitar strings and possibly Gorbel’s most miserable performance. Fortunately for listeners, that misery couldn’t have been captured in a more perfect way.
So while the Honorary Title may never be able to sit at the same table as their influences, Scream and Light Up the Sky puts them a couple chairs closer. And with that said, someone ought to send Mr. MacManus a copy. With such a magnificent blend of big sounds and bigger emotions, he may just grant them an honorary title of his own.