Intentional or not, the cover of Elevator Division’s sophomore LP bears an uncanny resemblance to Joy Division’s albums. The font and the placement of the artist and title evoke Closer, while the minimalist line drawing brings to mind the stark cover of Unknown Pleasures. Thus it is no surprise that the inside of the album will bring comparisons to the band Interpol, with the group all dressed up in jackets and ties against a red backdrop. Musically, the group evokes a different sound, one that resembles the expansive radio rock of groups like U2 or Coldplay, rather than the chillier sound of its aesthetic influences.
The album starts with tremendous promise with the track “October”. With its dour, but propulsive chorus, and led by James T. Hoskins’s powerful pipes, “October” is a notch above standard MOR fare. Unfortunately, the rest of the album fails to hit the peak set by the first track. The following nine tracks are similarly paced and equally mopey, but the hooks are fairly unforgettable and the lyrics are often riddled in cliches. Hoskins is blessed with a fantastic voice, but lyrically, he cribs from some well-worn notebooks. Hoskins uses the mircrophone as a confessional, but offers nothing new. Lines like “You and I and no one else / I thought you were the one / I thought you were the one” (“Cemetary Road”), “Pictures of people we once knew / But now they’re gone away / Chances to say ‘I love you’ / Will soon be gone away” (“Tempo Of Three”), and “The radio is on / It’s playing our song tonight” (“Radio”) litter the lyric booklet, but feel dated even on the first listen.
Knob twiddler Larry Gann (Natalie Merchant, Elton John) knows his way around the studio, and frames Elevator Division’s songs with solid production. The guitars shimmer, the bass pulses, the percussion swirls but most importantly, Hoskins’s voice guides the album. Though he morphs into Thom Yorke when he hits the upper registers, Hoskins’s throat is the band’s secret weapon. With Gann’s help, Elevator Division put together an impressive presentation, but even the wrapping can’t hide the pedestrian songwriting.
In its one-sheet, Elevator Division takes great pains to distance itself from Kansas City’s indie music scene. They claim to be a step away from “emo-factories” of the city’s music community and congratulate themselves on their deliberate move toward a professional sound. Though they’ve worked hard to dress themselves up as “serious musicians” (a dubious and problematic position to begin with), with a more mature sound than the current indie rock scene, truthfully Years is emo in better suits.
Despite my discomfort at its almost smug dismissal of indie rock, Elevator Division is a talented group, but lacks a distinctive personality needed to bring it to the next level. Hoskins, at least on record, doesn’t have the enigmatic personality of a Thom Yorke or Bono and the group has yet to write a defining track like “Clocks”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, or “Fake Plastic Trees”. In short, the band walks the walk, but can’t talk the talk. The group is reaching for the stars, but is still getting in on the ground floor.