Downtown: self-titled

Mike Schiller

If excitement and intrigue are what you're looking for, then Downtown is the last place you want to be.



Label: Coup de Grace
US Release Date: 2005-01-25
UK Release Date: Available as import
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I'm bored.

Bored, bored, bored.

So bored.

All right, here's the thing -- you have got to have some serious cojones to be putting art featuring lots of nude women (drawn and painted by Gustav Klimt) all over your album and prose by Aleister Crowley all over your liner notes. These are the kind of boundary-pushing moves that should be executed by a band on the edge, a band that is destined to redefine the kind of music the sheltered masses and the jaded critics will be listening to for the next 10 years. These kinds of images and words should only be adorning the kind of music that can match the unique, uncompromising visions of the artists that rendered them.

In other words, if the album cover's by Klimt and the liner notes by Crowley, the music shouldn't be sleepy, derivative, synth-colored mope rock.

Unfortunately, it seems that's what the self-titled debut from Downtown has to offer. For a couple of American blokes, they've got a decidedly British sound, as their influences would seem to include Pink Floyd, Spiritualized and, of course, John Lennon. Mostly, though, they remind me of a seriously, terminally tired Richard Ashcroft. The reedy quality to lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Robert Kaeding's voice is endearing at first, but it sounds as if he can't be bothered to augment the words that he's singing with any kind of human emotion. It's all in the middle of his room, and it's always vaguely urgent, but only in the kind of way someone is urgent when they're talking to themselves trying not to fall asleep at the wheel.

The rest of the instruments don't fare too much better, as nothing really sticks out, nothing pegs itself as something to listen to for the duration of any given song. It makes sense, really, given that Kaeding does most of the instruments, but guitarist Eric Brendo isn't getting let off the hook here, either, as the guitars shift from meandering pointlessness to Smashing Pumpkins-style fuzzbox sludge without so much as a convincing reason other than a slight change of pace. Perhaps the point is to be disconcerting, but it just ends up being confusing.

Most egregious is "Colorful Little Boxes", a song that strives for the psychedelia of vintage Lennon but only comes off as a trite, hackneyed swipe at the commodification of love. "Love is everywhere / Especially inside of colorful little boxes," Kaeding sings, but his near-atonal caterwauling and the forgettable chord progression renders the song flaccid. The title of "Thunderstorm" evokes majestic violence, but the song itself can only replicate the low rumble of distant disaster. The finale of the album, "Stay Too Long", strives for the ironic whimsy of classic Floyd, but the band gets a little too lost in trying to ape the Beatles again for that whimsy to be taken to its logical extreme.

Sure, there are moments that wake me up, though they are, admittedly, few and far between. Opening track "Twilight" gave me much (soon to be dashed) hope for the rest of the album, as it soars enough with its low-pitched Smiths-esque guitars to get stuck in my head every once in a while. "Long Winter Gone" features some positively beautiful tinkly keyboard melodies, and pseudo-title track "One More Trip Downtown" features some nice interplay between the minor and major-key melodies in the song. It's pretty.

Tragically, such highlights are the exception, and not the rule.

Downtown features production credits on a few songs from the daunting trio of Flood, Alan Moulder, and Curve's Toni Halliday. It's telling that even this trio couldn't seem to pull any serious signs of life from the three songs they were responsible for. All of the songs on Downtown seem nice enough, but I just can't shake the feeling that for Kaeding and Brendo, the exhaustion of getting a record deal and recording their first album isn't at least as prevalent (loud, even) as any of the instruments. Perhaps on the follow-up, we'll hear what an energized Downtown sounds like. For now, it's strictly music to fall asleep to.


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