Kids looking to become indie rock stars aren't picking up guitars these days. I mean, what's the point? You have to learn how to play, then you have to find a few people to start a band with. Not only do you have to get along with these people but you also have to share a similar musical vision. In addition, you have rent practice space, coordinate everybody, and deal with the delicate balance of egos that are present in every band. Instead, potential indie rockers are saving their hard-earned cash, buying computers, keyboards and, with even the most basic of recording software, putting their songs to digital tape. Now Apple is offering Garage Band home studio software with all their new computers
This bedroom rock movement is growing quickly in popularity. The Postal Service has exploded, and bands like the Magnetic Fields have devoted followings. Hrishikesh Hirway, the man behind the One AM Radio is looking to join the flock of fellow home knob twiddlers with his sophomore release A Name Writ in Water. Falling somewhere between the aforementioned Postal Service and Elliot Smith, the One AM Radio offer sensitive, plaintive songs subtly fleshed out by electronic bleats, trumpets and strings. Though more organic than his electronic driven brethren, Hirway's textured arrangements can't save his uninspired songwriting.
When I first put on A Name Writ in Water, the opening bars of "What You Gave Away" almost had me reaching for the skip button. Accompanied by little more than maracas and some soft keyboards, Hirway's fey, off-key delivery is immediately off-putting. The song takes its time before really getting going and while the beats are nice and the production is stellar, Hirway is at best an average songwriter. There is nothing in these arrangements that immediately stand out from other singer/songwriter fare. It is somewhat telling that one of the best tracks on the album is "Shivers", which is mostly instrumental. Freed from the constraints of the verse-chorus-verse structure, Hirway is able to get creative with the beats.
Lyrically, Hirway again leaves much to be desired. Specializing in the abstract emo writing style that was so popular in the mid- to late-90s, Hirway spins specifically vague emotions. Lines like "As we drive down, what were names on a map will gather around, waiting to be found" and "Dry brush waits for a spark, to be transformed into flames bright and true that would burn all night through" are not uncommon.
It's inevitable that Postal Service comparisons will be made with the One AM Radio. Both groups are working from a similar formula, but there are some striking differences between the two. The first major difference can be summed up in two words: Jimmy Tamborello. Simply put, he's a much better programmer than Hirway. His beats are alive and inventive, yet have plenty of space to let the vocals breathe. The other difference can be found in the production. The One AM Radio has Hirway's voice pushed to the forefront of the mix, whereas the Postal Service caress Ben Gibbard's voice with electronic textures, never letting his vocals command the song.
The One AM Radio's A Name Writ in Water is a sincere effort but instantly forgettable. Hirway's ambitions are noble but more time spent crafting his songs and beats could make a world of difference.