Finn Riggins is a very serious band. All three members hold music degrees. When not touring, they proclaim to reside in a cabin deep within the Idahoan woods for 120 days out of the year. They also assert, as written on their Myspace page, that their creative process “exemplifies the glory inherent in approaching one’s creative life from an anomalous perspective.” These three don’t mess around.
Such keen attentiveness to the artistic process of making music carries over in the band’s aesthetic as well. Everything from the live sound of their fourth record Vs Wilderness to the recyclable cardboard CD case stamped with a homemade silkscreen cover screams cabin-living DIY-cred. In an age where a band’s popularity can often be determined by their web 2.0 skills, as opposed to the quality of their musicianship, the workingman ethos that characterizes the music and aesthetic of Finn Riggins is, admittedly, somewhat refreshing. Unfortunately, all the isolation from the rest of the indie-world and blue-collar efforts doesn’t save their fourth full-length Vs Wilderness from sounding undeniably derivative.
Being able to recognize the influences that mark the songs on Vs Wilderness isn’t necessarily the problem. Finn Riggins’ inability to hone their own sound off the foundation of such influences is where the band ultimately falters. Over the claustrophobic 40 minutes of Vs Wilderness, the band fluctuates from unusual time-signatures coupled with intricate guitar lines to jerky, dance-punk while utilizing a range of instruments that includes, but is not limited to, an xylophone and steel drums. Despite all the impressive technicality and genre-bending range of their music, Finn Riggins just can’t create something memorable. Instead, most of Vs Wilderness feels as if the trio is having a competition with each other’s instruments. At one moment they’ll be reincarnating German psych-freaks Can, but suddenly sound more like the B-52’s a few seconds later. At other moments, Zappa-esque guitar lines fight with the pounding chords of a keyboard, as the drums jostle and shake to break through all the clatter, while one of the members sings something about “burning giraffes in the streets.” This back and forth spanning of different rock styles, often within one song, is impressive musicianship but it doesn’t make for much of an album. Ultimately, the end result is an unfocused, isolating full-length that takes artistic-process and musical dexterity much too seriously to leave any lasting impression on the listener. After all, anyone can recognize art that took technical, painstaking steps to be completed, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is going to like it (or get it).
Not all is lost, though. The best parts of Vs Wilderness are when Finn Riggins get loose and just let the rock out. “Antoinette pt. 1” starts off as a punk-strut straight from 1977 before erupting into a blissful rock tune that sounds like the Breeders at their gentlest or the more recent post-pop of Electrelane. At the song’s finale, female vocalist Lisa Simpson sings under murky reverb, “don’t lose your head!” Perhaps Finn Riggins should take this advice, keep focused and learn that sometimes less is more. The following track, “Antoinette pt. 2”, picks up where its predecessor left off, with a crunchy guitar accompanying a wailing keyboard as Simpson’s croon resonates until its weepy end. These two tracks will leave you looking for the repeat button and at the same time scratching your head as to where all the fun went with the rest of the album.
The lack of focus on Vs Wilderness is due to Finn Riggins’ problems with creating a recognizable sound that is their own. Instead, the trio tries to recreate the music of everything that exists in their record collection, to mixed, often poor results. There is no doubt they are a band that is deeply dedicated to their craft. Unfortunately, they try too hard to do too much and would probably benefit from keeping it simple. Call it Mars Volta syndrome.