Saturnine: Pleasure of Ruins

Jason Thompson


Pleasure of Ruins

Label: Motorcoat
US Release Date: 2001-10-16

What if, long ago, Robert Smith of the Cure and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. had decided to write some songs and form a band with which to perform them? If they had, the end result may very well be what is currently known as Saturnine. This New York based group had its seeds sown in the early '90s. Through the years, the band has had some personnel changes and now consists of Mike Donorfio on bass, Matt Gallaway on guitar and vocals, Jim Harwood on drums, and John Pisani on keyboards. But if Peter Buck, Michael Stipe, and Robert Smith aren't lurking about on there as well, it's certainly a good con.

Of course, with a sound like that, you're going to have a hard time getting your own voice heard. And certainly, listening to an album like Murmur or Seventeen Seconds brings a bit more enjoyment than listening to the distilled thrills of both through the instrumentation of Saturnine. Indeed, it's the opening song, "When We Were Anchors for the Sun" that sounds uncannily like the Cure's "A Forest". From the bass riff down to the tight and straight forward drum pattern, the song smacks of Robert Smith before he decided to become boring. But the problem is that we've heard it before. And granted, Matt Gallaway actually sings instead of mopes the lyrics out, but the obvious musical mirror image still remains. Though Gallaway does try the cryptic poetc turn of a phrase in lines like "This is an industry that science cannot even try to help / It's more the money than the plans / Beneath the cedars we find branches in the snow / Beneath the snow we find the branches now have roots that have just now begun to grow".

Enter the Michael Stipe muse.

"Entertainment is the future of the world / It's enough to make you wish for something more". How decidedly R.E.M. Well, it is if you hear it at least. But the problem is that even when you do, you wish Saturnine would just break free of its musical restraints. The guitars are usually terse and spare. Jim Harwood's drumming is so straight laced that one begins to thirst for just a simple drum fill. And while the music does indeed echo early '80s college rock, the dynamics of what made that older music so great are not included here. Unlike the Cure, there are no dramatic moments to break the tension. And unlike R.E.M., there are no sudden outbreaks of joyous melodic moments to balance out the abstract quirkiness.

Saturnine does eventually break out of their cocoon on the fourth track, "Picking Up the Pieces of the World", and nowhere else is the Murmur/Reckoning sound exploited so strongly. This sudden uptempo ride continues on through the less exuberant "The History of Cleveland" and the instrumental "Juicy Whip". Yet even the energy explored in these three sudden outbreaks doesn't seem to catch hold to anything solidly gratifying. Yes, the music is nice, and yes the band is tight, but they never want to venture out beyond the picket fence surrounding the front lawn. It's as if they decided to put in some upbeat numbers because they felt obligated. There is no sense of an honest joy in these songs.

Part of that can be chalked up to Matt Gallaway's vocals, which, though pleasant, never spark any real passion on the album. The other downside is attributable to John Pisani's keyboards. They drone on rather loudly at times, eking the rest of the life out of the sound. Granted, Gallaway lets his guitar cut loose with a little feedback on "Mike's #2", but again it feels like he did it just because of an unwritten obligation. A kind of "Oh well, we haven't done this yet, so let's go ahead and put that in now" kind of feeling.

That the band is so committed to producing a sound of sorts that was popular two decades ago is somewhat amiable, but it never catches fire. Gallaway tries on the Stipe mask one last time for "Make Way for the New Parade", but it only makes one long for the real thing. And while this may not have even been the band's intention at all, the sound is clearly there.

Pleasure of Ruins is pleasant enough, but it lacks any real vigor or fire. It plays on plainly, and at the end of it, your stereo may just want to let out a little sigh. Not because of a strong workout, but because the music and performances here have failed to be even remotely engaging. Saturnine would do well to branch out a little in the future. Either that, or explore a more original sound.






Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.


Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.


Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.


'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.


Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".


12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.


Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.


Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.


Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".


Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.