Saturday, May 8, 2010

Blackmarket/Spirit Kid/Makaras Pen


St. Vincent Decor

I didn't have much love for the self titled EP by these guys back in '08, and it turns out that a full album merely means there's twice as much music not to like. Even though the band try to vary their sound from time to time with acoustic guitar or big ornate production, as on the ambitious 'The One I Know You're Not', it doesn't make the songs any better. Blackmarket are, fundamentally, a band who sound generic and personality-less. I mean, I hate modern day Weezer, but at least Rivers Cuomo has some charm and personality. Imagine modern day Weezer without Cuomo's faltering songwriting abilities and sliver of charm/personality, and you've got Blackmarket.

Anyway, St. Vincent Decor is a big dumb rock album that reminds me of why I don't listen to the radio, and why I got sick of listening to it back in the 90s. But why, more specifically, is this album no good? Well, it's a combination of a few things: A) I hate most of Weezer's post-Pinkerton output, so I wouldn't like a band who sound like that B) there's a polished, Pro Tools redolent production style to the album that sounds like what happens when bands don't have enough ideas or integrity to stop producers from pushing them around C) the artwork is awful, and as with the name and album title, there's absolutely no consideration given to what they're trying to say, which leads me to conclude that D) Blackmarket aren't really a band so much as a drunken dare between three dudes that has gone on far too long.

1 Poorly Drawn Star Out Of 5

Spirit Kid


Well, bonus points for brevity: the self titled debut album from Spirit Kid is only ten tracks and 27 minutes long. That said, no points for originality: the press release that came with the album makes it clear that Emeen Zarookian (is it just me, or does his name look like it belongs as an alien character in a Kurt Vonnegut book?) really loves The Beatles and other classic pop/rock bands, but I think a fairer comparison is Elephant 6 mainstays Apples In Stereo. And Olivia Tremor Control, minus the psychedelia and experimental tendencies.

I don't know quite how to explain it, but if you've ever wondered what melodic pop music without hooks sounds like, then get this album. It should be impossible to craft Beatles-esque pop music without strong hooks and memorable songs, but somehow Zarookian pulled it off. Songs like '(You Are) Not MY Servant' and 'Assumed By You' are almost over before they begin, and no impression is left other than “congrats, you got the sound of this style of music but have taken none of the lessons from it about songwriting or hooks.” These are songs of complete competence and studio perfectionism (which only makes sense, since Zarookian is the only person who played or sang on this album) with no originality or ideas of their own. Do I even need to mention that he sounds an exact imitation of the dude from Apples In Stereo and one of the dudes from Olivia Tremor Control? Say what you will about those bands, or even, say, Dr. Dog, but at least they have great, memorable songs and put their own spin on this style of music.

2 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 2

Makaras Pen


Oh, no no no no. No. Look, I love shoegazer music, and I'm growing to love the dream-pop/vaguely gothic sound of classic 4AD bands like Cocteau Twins, Red House Painters, and Dead Can Dance, but that doesn't mean I want a self acknowledged rip off of these bands. Sure, that's kind of novel in 2010, but novel doesn't mean good.

It doesn't help that the lyrics to this album are generally atrocious and read like break up notes or LiveJournal poetry: “you drove a stake right through my heart/should've known from the start/I've been down on my luck/just crave for your touch.” And it doesn't help that the dudes in the band look like meaty 30 something bartenders who “auditioned” a chick to be their singer, and she subsequently studied the “formulaic and structural aspects of the genre.” This is what the press release says, and you know that when a press release uses a term like “formulaic”, things are just bound to be great. Well, OK, this music isn't bad because it's formulaic. That just makes it boring and forgettable. Rather, it's bad because when the band attempt original things, like the pointless and laugh out loud ridiculous screaming from one of the dudes toward the end of 'Tightrope', or the excruciatingly drawn out closing instrumental 'Opus 6', which sounds like a cover band of a cover band of Mogwai, drunk....where was I? Oh yeah. When they try these things, it falls flat and ruins whatever atmosphere the band are creating. Sorry, did I say “creating”? I meant “copying.”

Even assuming you really love this kind of music, there's a world of difference between boring, formulaic competence and well-done-but-not-very-original above average-ness. You may recall I really enjoyed an album by a band called Muy Cansado. They were very obviously trying to sound like The Pixies. I wrestled with how unoriginal they were, but the more I listened to their album, Stars And Garters, the more I stopped worrying about originality and just enjoyed the thing for being, you guessed it, well-done-but-not-very-original. I can't say the same for Makaras Pen.

2 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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