[27 August 2007]
In the lovely liner notes for their new album, The Destruction of Small Ideas, 65daysofstatic lament the loss of dynamics. You have probably noticed this trend yourself, in some form. Your iPod is on shuffle play and, when an old mid-‘80s Love and Rockets song comes on (the original, unremastered version), it’s so quiet that you barely notice. Until the huge drum beat drops in, halfway through, in a surprising dramatic shift. Rock music used to have dynamics but they’ve been shed gradually over the years, a liability in the struggle to make your song bigger, louder, more noticeable on the radio. And so new recordings are routinely steamrollered by compression and limiting into constant blares, often sacrificing impact and dramatic tension in the process.
It sounds great on paper. Buzzy, technically proficient, ever-progressing instrumental math-rock filled out with clever sample use, pale piano chords, and sequenced percussive digressions, now with greater attention to dynamics. It even looks great on paper. Those same liners feature a couple of compelling comparative charts: the plateaus and shallow valleys of regular rock production versus the far more complex terrain of a hypothetical 65daysofstatic track, the jagged peaks pushing higher and plunging chasms scraping ever-lower. Why then, is The Destruction of Small Ideas, in fact, rather uninspiring?
There’s no single issue here, but an assembly of minor to moderate puzzling decisions and missteps. Collectively, they lead to a album that I keep waiting to get into. Surely one more listen and it will all come together, I tell myself. Surely I cannot fail to love music made this way, with such solid compositional intentions. No such luck.
The hoped for dynamics are definitely here, at least. The Destruction of Small Ideas is at its best loud, when the little background wooshes and murmurs can emerge in the near-silence of the track introductions and troughs, only to be overwhelmed when the guitars lunge in. Unfortunately, this takes a certain amount of listening commitment. The album sounds good lying on living room carpet between good speakers, in the dark, eyes closed, the tuner turned up. The album sounds less good when your roommate is sleeping and you’re keeping the sound at reasonable volumes, or in the office, or on older, tinnier computer speakers, or (don’t even bother) on the subway or bus. Perhaps all music deserves to get full attention and high volume on a good system, but realistically, such experiences make up only a fraction of most peoples’ listening, more so than ever in this era of digital downloads and portable media.
Even under ideal circumstances, though, the album doesn’t entirely deliver. The production has an odd lack of atmosphere, a reined in ambiance. The guitars are dry and vacuum-sealed, the live drums flat and clipped, the background noises brittle and corralled tightly into their sections of sound spectrum. The results of all of this presumed obsessive control are songs that sound canned, restricted where they should be expansive, evoking very little in the way of mood or emotion.
Compositionally, The Destruction of Small Ideas also seems to lack the momentum and vitality of some of some of the older 65daysofstatic material. The songs do progress constantly, shifting between delicate piano, roaring electric guitar noise, gauzy strings, and seasoning of glockenspiel, but these progressions tend to repeat themselves a lot, even as they adjust arrangements, and yield surprisingly few memorable moments, phrases, melodies. Aiming for better integration of live and electronic elements, former drill-drums have been toned down and sampled noise embedded deeper in the mix, leading to a sound less immediately distinguishable from standard guitar rock. On the closing track, 65daysofstatic attempt a single foray into vocals, but for some reason choose a distracting raw screaming. For the final minute-and-a-half, at least, they settle into a tired, slightly out-of-sync chorus, a charmingly human moment at last.
Aside from some rather interesting soaring syncopated keyboards on “The Distant & Mechanised Glow Of Eastern European Dance Parties” and the odd riff or motif, “White Peak / Dark Peak” holds the album’s most memorable moments. Unsurprisingly, this is by running against the usual trends of the album: the piano notes, here accented by trickling glockenspiel and occasional creaking electric guitar notes, occupy a richer space, mournful and introspective. Once sheets of static signal the entrance of the full guitar section halfway through, the piano rises to the occasion, strong and hymn-like. At four minutes it’s one of the album’s more concise efforts, the structure a simple continuous build sequence, but the melodies engage throughout. Distracted, perhaps, by stretching their dynamic range and breaking up songs with sudden arrangement shifts, 65daysofstatic might, “White Peak / Dark Peak” suggests, benefit most from focusing on tighter song-writing and greater emotional investment.