If 2003 was for indie rock the year of the DFA telling everyone to dance and the Wrens resignedly moaning "Everyone Choose Sides", Most Every Night is the sound of a band that refuses to choose sides for 2004.
On their full-length debut, Lying in States expertly toes the line between esoteric punk rock and surprisingly commercial anthems, pairing divine dissonance with hook-laden melodicism. In the clash between anarchic guitars and danceable beats, Justin Trombly's bass proves a secret weapon, allowing a modicum of booty-shaking -- albeit with enough rhythm changes to pull the hamstrings of anyone who goes all Paula Abdul for "House of Jealous Lovers". One track is even as "alt-country" as anything that genre's most-lauded practitioners have produced in the past two years.
Reading rock criticism, you'd think every punk-rooted band that actually knows how to play its instruments was dug up by DeBeers. The riffs are always "angular", the bass "jagged", and the band destined to be important "forever", or at least until you forget the review. All that's missing are cloying television ads that equate buying your girlfriend a Minor Threat CD with whether or not you love her.
Unfortunately, some rock-critic tropes are too true to ignore. Whether Lying in States is forever -- or even a girl's best friend -- is anybody's guess. Indeed, at times it's all too much, veering into prog rock excess worthy of Dream Theater with a less annoying vocalist. Nevertheless, Most Every Night is one the most interesting diamonds in Chicago's indie-rock rough, easily establishing Lying in States as one of the Second City's most promising new groups.
With words like "angular" flying around willy-nilly, you may know what to expect: noise aplenty, bleeding amplifiers, frantic vocals and, of course, guitar riffs with more edges than the finest cubic zirconium. Lying in States sounds like the Constantines with a few more closet metalheads (or not-so-closet: apparently Lying in States does some killer Guns n' Roses covers) or Pretty Girls Make Graves with a pissed-off, Midwestern Thom Yorke on vocals.
In other words, Lying in States churns out intense, complicated 21st-century rock, with a combustible dose of punk energy. Their moment of truth comes three minutes, 19 seconds into "Vie Capital Ponk", when a surprisingly accessible rock tune gives way to mellow, descending electric guitar notes reminiscent of a similar instant in Pavement's "Transported Is Arranged", from the Northern California indie-rock group's 1997 classic, Brighten the Corners. A spacey Pink Floyd vocal melody rejoins the fractured guitars, until the decibel meter rockets toward 11 once again with a guitar solo that would fit in Radiohead's "Paranoid Android". The final 30 seconds double back to the upbeat, anthemic sound of the song's beginning. Would the dizzying list of reference points get too long if I were to suggest that the cumulative effect has more than a little in common with Chicago luminaries Smashing Pumpkins?
Equally telling is track five, "We". A double-tracked vocal by Ben Clarke joins acoustic guitars, looped whistles and ambient synths for an effect that holds up well against the recent work of another fellow Chicago group, Wilco. "Don't give in", Clarke wheezes in his best Jeff Tweedy impression, "You won't find satisfaction in a cheap ordinary thrill".
Most of the lyrics aren't quite this easy to decipher. So on this first record, it's hard to tell if Lying in States are as good at crafting lyrics as they are at sculpting epic soundscapes of guitar explosions and synthesizers that run the gamut from the soft background tones of "We" to the faux-new wave of "Hot Mountain". But the hooks are there, from the tense "I feel like I'm falling" of the opener "Most Every Night" to "That's the wrong attitude about it" in "Fall or Stumble".
Closing track "In All of Christendom" offers Lying in States at their most choppily, frighteningly close to prog-metal. The feedback and passionate vocals, here falling between Yorke and Billy Corgan, ultimately carry the song through, but the mid-song tempo change is vintage Dream Theater -- just add a wanky guitar solo. Thankfully, Lying in States do their masturbating in private, and the song succeeds in its own right, but the elements are nearly all there.
The question is clear for Lying in States: Should the band continue exploring its obviously prodigious musicianship at the risk of losing the passion that sustains Most Every Night? Or should they coalesce around what elevates them from similar bands, their combination of unholy noise and devastating hooks, and focus more on songcraft than sonic flashiness?
I don't know, and frankly, who cares? Enjoy the rough-hewn, multi-faceted diamond that is sure to be one of the best debut albums of 2004.