[31 March 2008]
Colour Revolt are five guys from Oxford, Mississippi, immature enough to feel decadent about booze and sex, and pretentious enough to get vaguely Christian, vaguely apocalyptic about it. Or maybe that’s just singer Jesse Coppenbarger, and his formerly math-rock mates are simply along for the ride—which would help explain how predictable and monotonous the scenery becomes. Each of the first couple songs on the band’s debut full-length, Plunder, Beg, and Curse, is constructed like a theorem that doesn’t know it’s only trying to prove itself; lead and second guitar ape each other, with the distortion building up on cue as Coppenbarger’s initially flat intonation works up more drama, and the drummer does all he can to help. The lyrics are more embarrassing, but equally dutiful. Lines like, “God is swinging from the liquor tree / Licking everything he sees,” are more of a problem than they have to be, because they’re not used as throwaways, but rather, as an attempt to build something like an over-all statement or story. The revelation of opener “Naked and Red” comes when Coppenbarger admits (toward the end of the song) that he’s been the one swinging from the liquor tree all along, before concluding that, “Eden is a hell of a place”.
The third song, “Elegant View” varies the formula by slowing everything down, and for the first few minutes the trick actually works. Everything is calmer until suddenly it’s not, as vocals, guitars, and drums all go into overdrive, but the tempo remains the same, rendering all the intensity even more absurd, kind of like watching a Motley Crue performance in slow-motion. The next song returns to a faster tempo, which causes relief, as well as the comfort of knowing when every key change or guitar ejaculation is going to hit, and that neither they nor the inevitable big breakdown are going to lead anywhere but the end of the song.
Just about half-way through the album now, “Moses of the South” promises more of the same, with a different initial tease; this one’s not only a bit slower, it’s also brighter. Coppenbarger finds a higher register that fits him surprisingly well, the guitarists have found some pretty, slide-esque tones with the help of effects other than distortion and fuzz, humbly droning around an acoustic core and an implied melody that never quite goes overt. Around the time a double-tracked wordless vocal refrain kicks in, it becomes clear nobody’s going to ruin this song. Even the lyrics are a little better, seeming to call themselves out for “crucifying the inane”.
After that one worthwhile exception, the mundane rule of fuzzy guitar leads and “self-destructive seeker” posturing returns. One song is called “Ageless Everytime” and it proves as redundant as its title. Another, “Swamp”, is notable for providing a moment that sums up Coppenbarger’s lack of perspective so well it almost seems like parody, as he claims, “I have nothing to proo-oo-ove” three or four times in a row, that last word taking longer to get through each time until you wonder if he honestly doesn’t know what “nothing to prove” means. Elsewhere, he manages to top earlier efforts at monotone menace, at his best, pushing himself into a respectable Danzig imitation.
The last few songs are slightly more tolerable than what has come before, mostly because they’re a little catchier, but there’s only one more, “Innocent and All”, that almost works. It opens with a false start that Mr. Lead Singer manages to be righteous about: “You can leave that. That’s how we start the song. Fuck you”. What follows sounds a bit like latter day Pavement, minus the lilt or the strong hook, but with Coppenbarger lost in some kind of gravelly seduction mode that climaxes in narcissistic falsetto—he’s clearly seducing himself—before one final unexpected leap into Isaac Brock territory. It’s just in time for the lyrics to recall the home-spun metaphysics of The Moon and the Antarctica as the song comes to a puzzling close.
Coppenbarger is a walking—no, preening—case of identity crisis, and his band is caught in the space between the mirror and the mixing board, without much of an identity at all. Plunder, Beg, and Curse is very clearly a first effort. A few moments on it demonstrate potential, but whether or not Colour Revolt will be able to live up to it is entirely dependent on whether they continue to pursue their dominant instincts, or the subtler, more tasteful ones. Unfortunately, I have a feeling the loudest voice is going to win.