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The Blam: Caveat Emptor

Jason Thompson

The Blam

Caveat Emptor

Label: Mootron
US Release Date: 2004-06-22
UK Release Date: Available as import

Let's cut to the chase. The best parts of the Blam's Caveat Emptor are the beginning, the middle, and the end. All three points on the disc are incredibly high and show off a sparkling originality and great potential. Sadly, the rest of the album runs in fits and starts and basically goes around in a lot of circles playing on its strengths in diminished returns.

Points of comparison here would be a lot of the usual classic and underground types of bands such as the Velvet Underground, Wire, the Undertones, Galaxie 500, Television, et al. There's a distinctly minimal groove going on here, and that's exactly what mires the Blam. For its few flashes of real brilliance here, its obvious influences wear a little too heavily over the proceedings.

That is not to say that Caveat Emptor is a complete washout. If anything, it's a pleasant reminder of when rock music was truly capable of expanding its palette. But in and of itself it doesn't break too much new ground. The three songs that do manage to do this are still backwards-looking, but have enough spin on their wheels to advance the group a few notches forward so that the entire affair isn't a total homage to how things once were.

Another New York City band, the Blam sound distinctively English, partly in thanks to some of the aforementioned comparison points, and partly thanks to Jerry Adler's vocals. Adler has that sort of disconnected New Wave quality to his singing that isn't quite American and isn't quite English, but definitely somewhere in between. The rest of the group is filled out with Reuben Maher on guitar, Yuval Lion on drums, and Itamar Ziegler on bass and vocals (Adler also adds guitar). Together, the Blam create a sort of retro NYC space rock, not in the vein of Pink Floyd, but more in the style of Eno.

So on to those best bits, then. The opener, "Death or Glory", does its VU impression well, with its "I'm Waiting for the Man" rhythm locked fully into place. Then it suddenly falls into a bit of minutiae before going full throttle once again, with Adler's empty echoed vocals summoning forth the Dean Wareham ingredient. The lead riffs are simple, following the chord progressions, and the band uses the most of the spaces between the notes and instruments, taking the less-is-more approach and maximizing it. It's a stunning opener that unfortunately only becomes diluted in other tracks.

"How Did the Flies Get In?" is slow Blam at its best. Again, it's just as much about the quiet infusing the tune as it is about the instrumentation. The guitar work on the song is a treat, creating surreal washes of semi-psychedelic/punk coloring. Certainly a quality that's not often heard on many albums, and it's why the tune is such an exceptional piece of work. When the Blam decides to actually experiment on this album, it pays off greatly, but those moments are not many.

The final track, "Everybody", fleshes out the "Flies" sound a bit more and brings to mind Mercury Rev at its most beautiful without being experimentally pretentious like that band. Listening to the tune evokes images of lazing on a summer's evening as the sun is going down and the cicadas are singing. A perfect ending to an otherwise average album, indeed. And it's not that the rest of the tunes are "bad", so to speak, it's just that they never reach the same heights as the three tracks singled out here. Some songs, like "Calm Down", have a nice, gentle appeal to them, whereas others, like the title track, just sound like failed reworkings of things like ""Death or Glory". This is how it is for much of this disc -- variations on a theme.

Still, you could do a lot worse, and at least the Blam are forging their own territory in the NYC sound. It's at least nice to hear a group not go out and simply regurgitate another variation on dumb garage rock. That they have instead decided to attempt a shot at spacier atmospheres is telling. Now if they can just play to their strengths and cut away the chaff, the Blam might have a real shot at making something truly great.

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