New shoegazers find it's hard to make it in the big city without learning a few new tricks.
Despite being a style that's dead, shoegaze has been having a pretty good run of late. Early standouts like Galaxie 500 and Slowdive have released old material old and Kevin Shields's work for Lost in Translation gained great attention and acclaim. Descendents such as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have been finding their own success in the indie world. At such a moment, insect-droners have their best chance in the big city, so enter in A Cricket in Times Square.
ACiTS owe a great debt to the reverb-addicted groups that came before them. At its best, the group honors the tradition through beautiful and lovely layering of effects-laden guitars, inscrutable but well-delivered vocals, and inventive drumming by former member Eric Swartz. At its worst, A Cricket sounds like a retread, only this time the guitar solos last too long.
But the good news first: the band knows how to rock. Album opener "Closer" begins with a steady strum, adds a snarly lead guitar, and increases in intensity. Then it drops way down. When the song picks up and drops again, ACiTS reveals their prioritizing of dynamics over hooks. The development here isn't verse-chorus or key-change, but in levels of sound and intensity. Before you have time to catch on to all that, though, the solo comes in, and it's a good one, nice and tight, not overstated, but enough to get your attention.
With that kind of a finish, the band has positioned themselves perfectly for the second track, "5 1/2-Minute Hallway". This track's slower groove and style of drumming might remind you of the '80s, and the revisit is worthwhile. Again, the lead guitar takes over toward the end of the song, driving it along with an exciting alternate-picking solo. At this point of the album, A Cricket sounds great -- it shows its influences but displays original, effectiveness, and a good skill in arrangement and production.
As you can probably guess from my narrative's structure, the band slips from this point. The punnily-titled "Mourning Son" could be a Galaxie 500 cover, but only if it was better. Whenever ACiTS slows down, it loses its sense of tension and release, of building and dynamics that's so important to this style of music. After two promising tracks, the group gropes for relevance and identity. The next track returns to a faster tempo, and A Cricket benefits from the speed, but room for suspicion has already appeared.
The band never fills up this room. "Blood from Heaven" particularly lacks musical force, letting a muddy mix and echo-y effect take the place of the kind of quality songwriting that started of the album. It's especially frustrating because the song buries a great hook, as if A Cricket decided it had to stay true to form and prevent itself from unleashing something catchy. To close down, we get another good-but-by-now-old-hat guitar solo before some spaced-out buzzing.
A Cricket in Times Square closes with a 12-minute piece that builds gradually and effectively, relying on the always noteworthy guitar solos. For the course of 12 minutes, though, it moves too slowly and does too little. "Outliving Your Shadow" has a structure that those Constellation bands could pull off in a rock setting, but ACiTS just isn't up to it yet, stumbling off occasionally into a jammish inconsistency before the pleasing false ending with Eastern strings.
The album closes feeling like something that just missed. The members of A Cricket in Times Square have the taste in selecting their influences, the willingness to see their vision through, and the talent to do so for at least a few tracks at a time. What they need next time is some better editing (ie cut-and-paste minus the "paste") and a few more tricks up their sleeve. Shoegaze can still be relevant and exciting, but this Cricket hasn't quite mastered his fiddle.