If you're looking for mood-music and a soporific, look no further! Color Therapy's here to put you to sleep and exercise any of those unwanted emotions!
Back before I could drive and so relied on my brother to get me around town we spent just about every car ride we had arguing about music. He was a Stones guy, I was a...DEVO guy (Lord knows why I thought there was some dichotomy between these two bands); he fancied himself classy because he listened to Michael Buble, I fancied him a cretin. I could never quite understand why he claimed Talking Heads as his favorite band when quite literally the only song he knew by them was “Once in a Lifetime”. He, for his part, was baffled that I'd ever condemn music for being inoffensive.
“Why the hell does music have to be offensive?" he'd shoot. “Art doesn't have to go out of its way to provoke to be good! Not everything has to be like that punk shit you love so much!”
What I never could get through to him was not that I felt music had to be confrontational or radical to earn its stripes but that it had to possess some capacity to challenge the listener if it was even going to be bad, let alone good. It took no special skill to make a bland piece of pap so lacking in character it went unnoticed, I contended; only music that was invested with something personal could challenge anyone enough to make them angry or to thrill them. I wasn't right in many ways, I don't think – if there's one thing I've discovered it's that even the most innocuous music can earn the hatred of millions (see: smooth jazz) – but I do still believe that “inoffensive” is a mark against music. If, that is, the entire point of music is to move us, to elicit a response in the listener beyond incidental rage (and I do believe it is).
Which is why my decision to dub Color Therapy's Mr. Wolf Is Dead the most inoffensive album I've heard all year should be taken less as an endorsement or well-mannered dismissal and more as a sign of condemnation. It's not that the album seeks to be so bland as it is: there are clear attempts to spice up the looping minimalist arrangements of soft synthesizers and subdued guitars with some heavy percussion here or a shredding guitar solo there. Claps are thrown in from time to time in an attempt to get any sleeping listener excited and, on “Expect Delays”, the arranger even decides to bring the music up to a triumphant swell right around the midpoint. They're merely gestures, though, very small and often very late ones that don't lend the bland-as-butter arrangements much, much needed texture. They do nothing to help the songs develop and only offer token assistance in developing these loops into something with a bit more flavor.
There are exceptions, sure, and some come so early on that it's easy to be tricked: the second track, “Half Castle”, combines a synthesizer that sounds like a flaring trumpet with a solid backbeat for a song that's engaging even if it comes through a watery filter and has one too many empty interludes. When it starts adding in the occasional alarm and squeal it even starts to sound exciting. Hell, even the next real track (“This Emotion” is little more than an interlude) kicks off like a sprinter fresh off the block. If it had a little more steam it might even have remained interesting, but it flags so often it loses whatever energy it had. The changes in time and style, then, end up feeling less like the natural development of the song and more like their composer just grew bored with the ideas he had.
It's lazy music all around, a melange of steady-state ambient electronica that skews closer to the soundtrack of Phantasy Star Online than it does Boards of Canada, a group Color Therapy's clearly eager to imitate. Unlike Boards, though, these tunes don't ever tap into anything strange or ugly, content much more to stay light and straight-ahead and encouraging. It's vaguely inspirational music that's not afraid to shove Einstein's words into the mouth of a robot. “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger – who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe – is as good as dead. His eyes are closed,” the one voice on the entire album intones, already stamping any critic with the label of “zombie”. Which is funny, really, considering that this kind of music was custom made for zombies and zonk-heads. The perfect background album for a group of over-stimulated adults who just need to sit down with a paintbrush, a pallet of water-colors and a bit of paper, yeah.