How to write a hack review of a good album in three easy steps! Just in time for the holidays!
With so many records to listen to and write about every year, inevitably one stumbles upon your path that stumps you even as it captivates. This is especially the case with good records, such as Pit Er Pat's Pyramids. Reviews of bad records write themselves. But what to do when you're past deadline and your head is empty? In such times of need a writer needs a bag of tricks, whose hack moves won't win any awards, but which will hopefully do as much justice to the album as possible. Here, let me show you how to squeak by in three easy steps:
1. Problem: Writer is not versed well enough in the band's style to make educated references. Solution: Wing it. Music criticism is all about the bluff. For example, the only band I know of that, at least to me, sounds similar to Chicago's Pit Er Pat is Stereolab. The rhythms on "Solstice" are held as much by the keyboards as the drum kit, creating a nervy atmosphere soothed by the mentholyptus voice of Fay Davis-Jeffers, a sound that is, how shall I say it, Stereolabesque? How freaking hard was that? You might do a little research and find out on Pit Er Pat’s MySpace page that their influences are "all". A lot of help that did you. Instead, stick with the Stereolab thing and insist on it. Terse yet melodic, discordant yet eerily smooth, super groovy, it's all there really. Because let's face it, you own only one Tortoise album (yes, that one), and you don't know Can.
2. Compare band's name to their sound. This move is awesome in its complete hackiness, but it usually works. Examples: "Soundgarden provides a veritable garden of sound," "R.E.M.'s early oeuvre was dream-like," "Dave Matthews Band sucks." With Pit Er Pat, this move is even more seductive. Pyramids is thoroughly percussive in atmosphere, but never heavy. Opener "Brain Monster" rides a repetitive pulse that somehow never gets tired, or tiring. Each element of the mix is employed with chemical precision, blending seamlessly into the appropriately woozy shanty "Seasick (Hang Ten)". From Butchy Fuego's inventive kit work to Rob Doran's stalwart bass to whatever other textures are employed to spice up the proceedings, everything is kept tight and un-superfluous. The name Pit Er Pat also implies a certain child-like innocence that the band also delivers on to some extent. Pyramidswon't oust the Wiggles from your Toddler's First MP3 Player anytime soon, but songs like "Baby's Fist" possess refreshing and welcome candor. "I like the dark 'cause it’s like I don't exist", Davis-Jeffers sings without an ounce of self-conscious angst. Instead, although the song trades in sinister melodies and lines like "Now we feel like trapped rats" and "I'm not trying to die today", it remains lively and danceable.
3. Employ a review-long gimmick, such as treating an album like an 8th grade science class pop quiz, or a grocery list at your favorite Scandinavian fish market. This will help keep your mind engaged enough to bust out the requisite verbiage. For some reason though, Pyramids doesn't present many obvious opportunities for a gimmick. The instrumental "Swamp" fades out into late-night frog noises, but that's just one song, and that's also just damn relaxing. The songs were reportedly written in-studio, after over a hundred live dates consolidated their creative impulses into a consistent, well-oiled machine. The finished product more than bears this out; the songs feel unified and of the same time, yet each strives to distinguish itself. Tracks bleed into one another. The "Swamp" froggies slowly give way to the jungle textures of "Pyramid" all wood-block and fuzz guitar, ending in a flurry of electronic squiggles. How to build a gimmicky review out of all that? So on second thought, screw the gimmick. Write from the heart, man, write from the heart.