There was a time when just about every single record that came from Deep Elm was guaranteed to be some second rate Mineral rip off, with a really arty cover. Things are looking up for Deep Elm Records, as of late, and this EP from Desert City Soundtrack is a testament to the reasons why. Contents of Distraction is an album far above and more mature than 99.9% of today's so-called "emo" bands.
The easiest way to describe DCS's sound would be to imagine that Cap'n Jazz had never broken up, but had simply gotten older. There was something really special about Cap'n Jazz, and I never really got into the Joan of Arc stuff, so an album like Contents of Distraction is a pleasant little peek of a hypothetical future, that never was. These guys aren't completely like Cap'n Jazz, but it's just so fun to make the comparison. The main difference is the wonderful keyboard player in DCS.
I usually hate pianos or keyboards on a "punk" record, but the way it's done here is really cool. The melodies on the keyboard are mixed so perfectly with the other instruments, that they come off sounding like a bass guitar at times, and it makes it easy to forget that there's actually a grand piano playing. Imagine the weird guitar lines of Fugazi or Cap'n Jazz, transcribed to piano, spiced up with beauty, and delivered with really big, off kilter drumming. It becomes a really nice little mix of instruments, kind of like a tolerable Ben Folds Five.
The opening track, "What to Do in Case of Fire", is the kind of song that gets the feet bouncing, the head bobbing, and the lungs singing. The beat is this furious little monster that scurries along with a gorgeous piano melody wrapped around its neck. The guitars are bizarre, prototypical "emo/art core" guitars (see any Jawbox record for example of this), and the vocals are quite intriguing, to say the least. The lead singer sounds very much like the singer of the late Braid, but not so much that one would accuse him of thievery; his later vocal stylings keep this from happening.
At times, lead vocalist Simon Carrille sounds like Bruce Springsteen; sometimes he sounds like the lead singer from Flaming Lips. Regardless of his similarities to other vocalists, there's something strangely unique about his voice that makes the listener feel warm and cozy, like a welcome friend on a cold and lonely winter's day. He can keep a tune, and he can bust out a bleeding throat scream, all the while not coming off in the least bit contrived or posturing; that's pretty incredible, considering the genre of music these guys are in.
Finishing where we started, I loved Cap'n Jazz, and I immediately thought of them after just the first song on Contents of Distraction. Sometimes it's impossible to disassociate things that are so similar, so I apologize to DCS if they do not like Cap'n Jazz. Nevertheless, I loved Contents of Distraction, and it has been a staple in my CD player for the last week or so. There's a half an hour of somber, rocking, beautiful emo/math/whatever core, with some very unique twists and turns (pianos!) on this disc, so you really can't go wrong in picking up this one.