There's an odd duality swirling around Authority Zero. Starting with a band name that denotes both strength and nothingness, the Mesa, Arizona, quartet seems to be trapped between two callings -- West Coast hardcore (a la Pennywise or Operation Ivy) and Sublime-esque white-boy reggae. They're not quite able to reconcile those two styles on their Atlantic Records debut LP, A Passage in Time.
After I say that, of course, A Passage in Time opens with a curveball: a 20-second intro titled "Papa", a tribute to a deceased member of guitarist Bill Marcks' family, and a ditty that's a dead ringer for Mark Mothersbaugh's Rushmore score. Sure, it's pretty enough, but what it has to do with the music that follows is anybody's guess. The album proper opens with the title track, which lead singer Jason DeVore tears through with appropriate hardcore brio while bandmates Marcks, bassist Jeremy Wood and drummer Jim Wilcox pound away on their instruments; they even remember to throw in the requisite punk "Whoa-oa" a couple of times. Then the band tries to get clever and pulls their one trick out of their sleeves -- aping Sublime -- during the bridge; it's a formula they lapse into on "Lying Awake" as well. It's not half as smart as they think it is.
Sometimes the band abandons the hardcore altogether in favor of the faux-reggae. "One More Minute", which found a home on modern rock radio earlier this year (and was promptly overplayed to within an inch of its life), is a sunny, loping slice of fun that's easily the album's highlight. But it too suffers from being overlong; at 6:28, the song's title starts out as a harmless broken promise and ends as a threat.
DeVore flies through the lyrics regardless of what the band sounds like behind him. He's a decent singer, but his voice suffers slogging through the overly wordy songs, and the songs suffer from a general lack of traditional song structure. DeVore thinks he has a lot to say and he crams the songs are full of overwrought homilies like "the life you choose to lead is your fate" (from "Everyday"). As a result too many of the songs are overlong and bloated.
A Passage in Time suffers from some disjointedness when the bands throws in a few songs from 1996 -- "Superbitch", "Mesa Town", "La Surf", and "Good Ol' Days". The liner notes indicate the other nine songs on the album were penned in 1999 -- there's that duality again. While the band is to be commended for inviting former Authority Zero member Jerry Douglas to sing on the new "old" tracks, it's a shame the songs are embarrassing. Where the new songs are of the "we've got to rise above" mentality -- heck, "Sky's the Limit", with its chorus of "Go! Go to the sky / Devote and try / Don't you want to believe? ... / Devote your life, no boundaries" could easily find a home amongst the Christian rock ilk. DeVore apparently hadn't discovered his spirituality back in '96. The earlier batch of songs tackle the themes of the suckiness of mean girls and the merits of drinking til you puke, all the while sounding like Rancid's snot-nosed kid brothers. The exception is "La Surf", a 90-second instrumental that's just begging to be used in an SUV commercial where some extreme-sports loving types drive out to the desert and dune surf.
A Passage in Time, while hardly great, shows a band with enough musical ideas to at least succeed, but they still lack focus. I've seen them play concerts with OK GO, Sugarcult, the Starting Line, Maroon 5, and Brand New just in the past four months alone. Just who the heck are these guys (and why did they want to spend their winter in Connecticut)? Shaking the dual-image problems (hardcore flagwavers vs. Sublime torchcarriers; partiers vs. uplifters) could do wonders for Authority Zero. Until the quartet figures out who they are, their passage through pop culture will be brief.