From what I can tell, the Eskimo Kiss label is pretty darned good. Audio Explorations' last fantastic album, ActionReaction, was released on the imprint, and the rest of the EK roster looks promising as well. The label itself was founded by Jeremy and Kim Ware-Mathews in Wilmington, North Carolina. Though they say the label isn't genre-specific, they do try to collect those bands mainly from the southeast region of the US whom they feel deserve the attention.
They also record and release their own music under the name of Pacer. Big Buildings, Small Stars is their latest effort, and while portions of the album do have a distinct charm, unfortunately a large chunk of this disc fails to register. This album feels like a demo all the way through, and while some cuts rise above that generic standard, most of the tracks here feel like they could have been fleshed out a bit more or reworked to some degree.
Jeremy Mathews handles the vocals, guitars, keyboards and percussion. Kim also sings a few of the songs, and contributed drums, percussion, and keyboards, and friend Bill Patterson supplies the bass. Together, the trio has a warm, raw sound that always has an off-the-cuff, live feel. It's a good sound for the most part and is well suited to the songs included on this album.
But the trouble spots arrive way too soon, as the first track "Reunion (at 74)" is one that drags on far too long with some rather weak lyrics and singing. "We lost the game but won the fight / We saved the day but spent the night / Caused too much trouble, got kicked out / Left seein' double passin' out" sing Jeremy and Kim, their voices not really working smoothly together. The whole tune sounds like it was recorded in a stupor, perched on a simple guitar riff that gets tired pretty quick.
Things pick up a bit for the second tune, "Workin' Too Hard". It jangles along nicely, with a particularly dissonant chord thrown in that throws any expectations off entirely every time it comes around -- a nice touch that strays from the norm. Jeremy's double-tracked vocals also sound terrific on this cut. His inflection of the lyrics also makes this a stand-out song on the album. The delivery is well mannered and a breath of fresh air after the opening track. Perhaps they should have started the album with this song.
Yet Big Buildings, Small Stars' main weakness is that for every good song, there's an equally poor one, and the track arrangement makes this all the more frustrating by shifting back and forth between the two extremes. "She Makes" is another bit of a clinker, with its bass-led progression, soft drums and again, singing between the two Mathews that just doesn't work very well. Kim gets to sing with herself on the funky "Song About It", which is reminiscent of a good Magnapop tune. Basically, these guys are good if they're left to their own vocals.
Unfortunately, they go back to singing together on the overly long "Find the Time" that tries to stretch out in rhythm and tempo, but sounds unsure of itself most of the time. This is followed by the worst song on the album, "Aquarium". With lines like "The aquarium is leaking on the ground / So I go to the closet to get some towels to mop it up / The fishes floating to the top looking sad and in trouble" set against a minor key background, the track is either a hilarious joke on the listener, or a song that should have just been torched. Sorry to say, but some songs you just don't record. Another track later on in the album, "Telemarket", goes in pretty much the same obvious direction, but thankfully the music is a bit more interesting to salvage the inane words.
"I Don't Mind" sounds too close to the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man" to garner any of its own respect, and "Good in it All" is a weepy country-like number that manages to stand upright even though it feels like its going to fall on its face at any moment. Pacer needs to seriously refine its approach to make captivating music. A couple songs out of 13 in total just aren't going to make for a memorable album.
The overall sound itself feels a little confused, too. Some songs sound like the kind of thing you'd hear from the sensitive locals at the favorite coffee shop hangout, while others straddle a kind of Violent Femmes / Cure hybrid that is rather sloppy at best. At any rate, perhaps the Mathews team would be better off presenting bands to the public that they feel are worth listening to rather than producing their own works. At least until they sharpen the skills a bit. There are flickers of promise here, but in the end Big Buildings, Small Stars winds up empty.