How much further can this buzzy, fuzzy garage rock trend go? How many more bands must we hear boasting that sedate, country/blues/rock retro sound? When will it end? Am I completely out of tune with the rest of the population? Do you actually love this stuff? Those floppy haircuts, the tight-fitting suits, the all-too-danceable duple time meter — this is still cool? Okay, fine.
Love as Laughter may deserve a little more credit than I’m giving the genre. The band has been around since the mid-’90s, and was part of the burgeoning Olympia, Washington music scene in ’94. Laughter’s Fifth is, oddly enough, the band’s fifth release, its third on Sub Pop Records. So, these dudes aren’t just mindless garage rock automatons, jumping on the big bad bandwagon that I wish would hit a rut in the road and catapult its occupants over a waterfall a really big waterfall. No, Love as Laughter’s got “cred”. Songwriter Sam Jayne worked with Beck, Modest Mouse and Dinosaur, Jr. He did the whole professional studio thing for 1999’s Destination 2000 and 2001’s Sea to Shining Sea and, not feeling particularly satisfied with that environment, he and the band chose to record Laughter’s Fifth in a friend’s basement in Newark, Delaware. Jayne wanted to get a more relaxed and genuine feel.
He was successful. This album definitely has that at-home feel to it, right down to the lo-fi vocals, the kazoo, and jammed out tunes about old radios. As happy as Jayne and the band may have been at this result, to the listener, the album comes across as kinda dull. “In Amber”, the first track, has some nice guitar riffs that slide around and sound dirty, but the vocals never venture above a blasé drone.
“Idol Worship! Idol Worship!” picks up the pace a bit but still drags under the weight of numbing 4/4 time signature. The guitar solo isn’t particularly interesting either. The “buzz” is in full effect on “Survivor” with Jayne’s languid riffs and fuzzy harmonies from bassist Brandon Angle.
“Every Midnight Song” boasts the emergence of drummer Zeke Howard, a guy who can really rock out if given the chance. “Dirty Lives” is the album’s most radio friendly pop song, but it doesn’t warrant the applause it receives at the end of the track.
Nothing else worth mentioning happens until the last few songs on the record, namely “Pulsar Radio”. Clocking in at just under seven minutes, this slow-burner features subtly barbed riffs that grab the attention and don’t release it until the very end. Keyboard player Miguel Mendez (of the band Dios) supplements the track’s unhurried feel with a few strategically placed chords. The reverb on Payne’s vocals lend the song a hazy/summery quality that doesn’t quite wander into the psychedelic.
“Corona Extra” features the aforementioned kazoo. No need to speak further on this matter.
Love as Laughter is in quite a pickle. The band has had it’s retro/garage sound for years, yet they fall squarely into the current, extremely tired trend. What to do? Keep with it, I suppose. There continues to be a market for this kind of music, and since Love as Laughter has got it down, why not go with it a while longer? The album artwork features a drawing of the band wearing those ridiculous suits, sporting floppy haircuts and even scarves around their necks. That’s not good. But if that whole package is your thing, then Laughter’s Fifth is gold.