A wordy but worthy release from Seattle songsmiths Some by Sea generates some energy but loses some momentum due to the sheer length. My igloo did not catch fire.
Apparently, Some by Sea will be throwing a launch party with fellow Seattleites Hypatia Lake. When I discovered this news, I felt a little concerned. I hoped to all of the deities that I could think of that On Fire(Igloo), the debut album proper from Some by Sea, was nothing like the Hypatia Lake album. After my review of that album, I doubt if I made it on to HL's Christmas card list and I didn't want a repeat performance. My concern was misplaced, it seems, as Some by Sea are a different kind of animal altogether; nevertheless, there is some kind of inkling that they are from the same habitat. Some by Sea are not happy, and they write complicated and clever songs.
Indeed, Some by Sea have cleverly crafted a compendium of cracking compositions that are solid gold whimsy. On Fire (Igloo) may not win any prizes this year for Album Title of the Year but the CD that lies within its understated packaging is likely to win the hearts and minds of a large portion of those that listen to it. And quite right, too. It is a record that reminds one of a time when LPs (like a CD, only bigger and blacker) were only beginning to lose their dominance and popsters wrote songs that demonstrated how Existential and well-read they were. This platter stirs up a few images of Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera, the Lilac Time, and, less pleasantly, Deacon Blue, because of its swish production values and knowing lyrical content.
They describe themselves on their website as "[y]our broken-hearted best friend that made you listen to Carissa's Wierd, R.E.M., Matt Pond PA, and Built to Spill." The band contend further that they are "hip without being slick." I'm not sure quite what that means, but they have produced a collection of tunes that have an insidious quality about them. The choruses are by and large not big and boisterous; indeed they creep up on you like some kind of musical Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster where the gold brick is replaced by the distilled essence of little fluffy clouds. In fact, on first listen I was convinced that this record had no choruses at all. After several listens, they were clearly there for all to hear. Or perhaps you have to prime you mind with one listen first.
If I were to pick some of the highlights it would have to be "Look What I Made Without Your Heart Getting In The Way" for its charming look at toxic relationships and the classic line ". . . and I know the things that go wrong when you can't stop making out with all of your friends". "One More Day Goes By" is similarly well observed, but in other places, such as the gargantuan "Only One Bullet", they go into Deacon Blue overdrive. Here they clearly forget where to draw the line of editorial control and the presence of this track alone tends to temper the overall album enjoyment experience.
Yes, in fact my major gripe about this record is that the songs are just too long. Pop songs have absolutely no business being over 5 minutes in length. The final track, the aforementioned "Only One Bullet", is a whopping 12:21. Twelve minutes and twenty-one seconds. Perhaps they were trying for some magic palindromic (I made that word up I think) number that would bless this release with unimaginable success, but I reckon that 3:13 might have been a better choice. The result of this excess is that the album clocks in at just over seventy minutes. Some might say value for money and fair dues; you do get a lot of quality pop for your cash. However, there are attention span issues to consider here. There is only so much cleverly crafted pop your brain can take in one sitting before it melts into mush. Like the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, once mixed this record should be listened to very, very carefully. Even if only to stop your brain simple shutting down.
That said, the album is pretty solid. It is long, but persevere with it; after the first listen, you will find some charming little gems that you can put on your iPod that will cause you to knowingly smile as you truck on down the street.