Bandit: Of Life

For an album that's sparse on ideas and interest it certainly SOUNDS big.
Of Life
Broken Circles

There may only be three members and they may call themselves “Bandit” but with the kind of noise these kids make – Dan Bishop goes after those drums like he’s hammering out the soundtrack to an epic, Dan Bishop chops at his guitar like Ganghis Kahn riding down peasants while Angela Plake belts it’s out as if to ring in the Apocalypse – it’s not hard to mistake them for an army of marauders. Their sound is sweeping and ostentatious and loud, their pose overly dramatic, their ambition unmistakable. And that makes them a tad unlikable. I’d like ’em more if they didn’t insist on themselves so much. If the overall tenor of this debut album was was more in line with the first light minutes when it’s all chimes and subdued trumpets and airy vocals, before the guitars and drums announce themselves and the trumpets flare. If they would sometimes explore the obvious talent they have for hooks and stripped-down rock. If, for most of its thirty-minute run time, this album came on less like a battering ram.

I’ll give them one thing at least: as bombastic as the album is it’s never really noisy, which is something of a minor miracle. Sure there are moments when the guitars, drums and vocals all threaten to clutter up the song – they’re all given such a strong presence and so massive a sound that it seems like the only thing for them to smash together with meteor force according to some obscure law of acoustic gravitation – but it’s at just these instance where everything is primed to collide that something sends them flying apart. The most likely culprit is the production which favors to keep the sounds spacious and grand, as if by doing so the album can slink by as something more awesome than it actually is. With the instruments either soaring up past the clouds or dipping down so low they skid on the ground and Plake wailing any romanto-poetic line she thinks sounds good to describe what seem mundane if not necessarily simple situations (an awkward sexual encounter not so full of promise as she’d hoped, vague rumblings about some “day we’d all escape”), the band never condescends to treat anything with less than apocalyptic reverence.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There are the occasional low-key moments: a welcome (if slightly chintzy) cover of “Where Is My Mind?” opens up the final third of the album and provides a much needed reprieve before the too-driving “Dragons”; “Of Life” may have an ugly mid-point crescendo-cum-conflagration that indulges all the most self-satisfied aspects of the album but for the opening three minutes and the coda it’s just the right kind of subdued. There’s an air of the lullaby about these restive interludes, marked as they are by the same ethereal production that’s splattered over every other inch of the album, but for once all of that space between the instruments and the effects is easy to welcome. Certainly it’s more complementary.

Not that the band sounds bad; by most measures they’re capable and in a few spots – the first few minutes of the album, a hooky and rocking chorus in “Pushing,” those aforementioned oases – they sound great. The problem is that too often the sound, which is fundamentally empty, remains the same. It’s all bluster, really, made to seem huge in order to cover up the fact that there’s really nothing much at all going on. There’s a core of solid rock, here, and a few earned moments of quietude, either one of which the band’d be smart to tap into it (or even, if possible, mix). If it means sacrificing all of that post-rock vainglory, so much the better: what excuse do a bunch of bandits have for that kind of pretense, anyway? Leave the pageantry for the imperial armies and the earth-shaking marching for the barbarian hordes.

RATING 4 / 10