Totaled is a classic what-if album. What if Indian Jewelry were more accessible and had more discipline?
Indian Jewelry isn't the kind of band that makes it easy for you to get to know them. Noise aficionados may appreciate the Houston collective for an aggressively abrasive sound full of primal beats and creepy, woozy effects, but Indian Jewelry's antagonistic aesthetic and foreboding tone might as well be a "keep out" sign to the uninitiated. Yet even as Indian Jewelry has settled into its own underground niche and what seems like willful obscurity, the group's music gives the sense that there might be something more dynamic beneath all the layers of gloom and doom, if the neo-psychedelic combo would only shine and polish things up. While it's not quite fair to judge any act for what it doesn't do, you can't help but wonder what Indian Jewelry would be capable of if it became a little more accessible or gave its dark experimental sound a cleaner, bolder production.
An album that's as promising as it is frustrating, Totaled makes a strong case that more might mean a lot more for Indian Jewelry, whether that's being more listener friendly, more ambitious, or more diverse in its approach. There are enough immediately appealing moments on Totaled to suggest that such a proposition is a tempting one, starting with the opening track, "Oceans". With its buoyant, booming rhythms and some insinuating synths snaking through its imposing soundscape, "Oceans" is as close to ear candy as Indian Jewelry gets. It's noise play with a sense of shape and structure. While "Excessive Moonlight" isn't as composed, there's an underlying melody to the song that sounds like a low-budget version of the Raveonettes trying their hand at bare-bones shoegaze, evoking sinister moods without becoming overly heavy. At its best doing what it does best, Indian Jewelry whips up vertiginous waves of noise and tribal rhythms that match the spirit and mood of bands from the scary side of post-punk, such as the Pop Group and This Heat, on harrowing, off-kilter tracks like "Vision" and "Tomo Bungay".
Still, Indian Jewelry's uncompromising sound and pitch-black atmospherics aren't about to meet anyone halfway, wearing you down and out over the course of the album. One of the difficulties with Totaled is that it makes its listeners work too hard to find much enjoyment after awhile. There are still too many instances of free-form noise that don't particularly go anywhere, as with "Simulation" and "Diamond Things". Towards the end, Totaled just gets too bogged down with its scuzzed-out sound and its bad attitude: "Never Been Better" recalls a poor-man's Liars, just with any traces of dance-punk energy and any sense of black humor smudged out in the murky mix. "Parlous Siege and Chapel" seems to take the Fall at its most misanthropic as an inspiration, only lacking Mark E. Smith's weary wit to even things out.
The hits and misses of Totaled show a band that still needs more discipline to make the most of its individual vision. Hearing the mixed results that Indian Jewelry comes up with on Totaled only yields a greater appreciation for the transitions that noise extremists like Animal Collective and No Age made when they retooled their respective plans of attack, each making over its distinctive sound for a broader audience without losing any of its edge. It's a template that Indian Jewelry might consider following, to channel and focus its imagination in order to move beyond their music's current limits. Who knows whether Indian Jewelry would reach any new heights, but it would be nice find out if they could.