Adventures of a University Finalist

Friday, March 17, 2006

Schadenfreude

Freud

The Yearning - Afterthought EP (Download, 2006)

The Yearning - Afterthought
The Yearning - The Fall

Old school review today. A small disclaimer first: this band features two of my best friends at University. They are not signed nor is the production as polished as you would expect from one that was. Nor is the music what you would necessarily expect to find here however that's not to say that I don't enjoy it.
The name is pretty horrible, I know. They rejected my brilliant suggestion of 'Bandcastle', a pun that slides over the tongue like a loose mint imperial, in favour of something that is a little too angsty and adolescent. More carving your favourite band's name in your arm with a compass than anything else. Of course, the band's name has nothing to do with the quality of their music but I just thought that particular personal grievance should be aired in case it poisoned the rest of this review.
If one were asked to attempt to pigeonhole the band's sound in general terms then mainstream indie rock would have to be the buzz word of that particularly boring conversation. The Afterthought EP veers between rather frantic anthemic rock ('Afterthought') through to inoffensive uptempo quanitly jingoistic pop ('The Fall') and ending up at Christian Rock ('Invisible Solace'). Yes, you read that last particular genre categorization correctly. So I feel that particular nugger may be the best place to start.
'Invisible Solace' is the last track on the six track strong EP. Sadly, it is also a sad victim of what I term the 'Some Girls Are Bigger than Others' syndrome. This particular syndrome involves a rather gorgeous, pastoral musical arrangement being disrupted by the lyrical constructs placed its surface. Now, this is not due to a reactionary anti-religious sentiment. I have always seen myself as a person who is pro-faith unless it reached a point where it impinges on basic moral rights and personal values. I find the conservative religious right in the US so repugnant due to its corruption of what is essentially a humanistic and altruistic doctrine into a self serving monolith bordering on fundamentalist dogma. People who can retain their strong beliefs in a benevolent higher being despite their doubts, a sentiment recently voiced by the hirsute Archbishop of Canterbury, is something to be highly praised. That is unless they're a sacred underpants wearing, wife swapping Mormon, of course. I am not Richard Dawkins; evolution, to me, is not the final answer. It is pointless to create an aggressive false dichotomy between "intelligent evolutionists" and "ignorant creationists". The lyrics are simply too downright basic and pious. The allusion to the soldier giving the old push of the spear into Jesus's side whilst he was on the Calvary cross appears to be a crude signpost that exists only to slap the listener rudely across the face as to its subject matter. It's slightly unfair to single the track out but I feel that having heard some of his solo material that he can write material so strong that it borders on the life affirming.
'The Fall', on the other hand, is probably the strongest of the six constituting of a chunky slice of a blues riff (think Freddie King with mono) collapsed in with a mix that allows the rhythm section to take a decent breath much needed after the opener, 'Afterthought', which is bogged down by trying to be a little too clever with its changes in tempo. The lyric is breezy detailing the realization that a relationship isn't working with someone whilst having the time of your life with them. It's an arch contradiction in terms which plays well with the buoyant vibe given off by the music. The song doesn't have any rough edges except when the singer attempts to go down the register during one of the pre choruses masquerading as a bridge. It shows maturity through its slickness at the same time as a youthful naivete and joie de vivre. There's also the fact that its as infectious as syphilis causing strange looks whilst you air guitar down a busy high street.
I'd put this down to the fact that the band actually seem relaxed for the only time on the record. 'Afterthought' is marred by the fact that the drums are static. There is no propulsive back beat to drive the song to the heights that it could so easily achieve. This is down either to the fact that there is no communication or basic kinship shown by the rhythm section and that the song is a little too daring, a little too early. Anthemic rock feeds on arrogance. The basic components of the song carry this off but not the performance. It's just such a shame as Ed, the male vocalist, ex-friend (or at least I think he is now since I likened what is obviously a highly personal song to sixth form poetry) and overall fantastic chap, has a great rock voice. This leads to invariable chemistry in the harmonies which are further boosted by the fact that they have such a sympathetic guitarist who is also not afraid to be an auteur. Power chords lead into Spanish flourishes that remind one of the versatility of a Beck, a Page or a Cooder. The fingerpicking on 'Invite Me Again' is just so exhilarating that it takes the song to a completely new level; a trait that I always felt applied to the Sundays. Without Gavurin's mastery of the jangle pop zeitgeist, Wheeler's pop confections would never have had the tangy bite that endeared them to so many of the floppy fringe and soft heart. Dan Hoyes, that guitarist, is the band's ace in the pack. This not due to any self-indulgent ambition but rather a sharp musical intellect married to such a self-effacing nature that he is not only able to embrace the band's basic musical ideas but to push them so far that they are completely transformed. One can imagine that not a question is asked of what he must do other than how to improve upon it. He is a perfectionist of Spector/Rundgren proportions and has the ability to see such a position through with ease. That is something really rather powerful.
This is an imperfect first release with some very welcome omens buried in the chicken bones. There is a clear sense that they know a melody when they hear one and that they are willing to push personal boundaries. However, I don't think that they push them anywhere near far enough. The constant thought that ran through my head whilst listening to the record was that this was an musical oligarchy disguised as a democracy. The bassist is clearly not valued enough either as a contributor or as a good enough musician than to be handed bum assignments. His patterns are far too basic when the guitars are allowed the wind together into textures that are fascinatingly rich in their density. Despite this, it still sounds too constrained. You expect a rasping guitar solo and then it's suddenly pulled back so that we can have an extended coda which merely constitutes of the chorus being repeated again. Maybe this is just because I've been listening to 'War Babies' by Hall & Oates which throws in so many wonderfully incongruous elements at will that it almost becomes a collage approaching the avant garde and self-destructive. Too much favour is given to the vocalists and their words when their lyrical style is still in a relatively minor stage of "I woke up this morning...." There has to some form of ambiguity; a sacrifice to archetypal symbols. If something stands in your way, you can't simply accept it. You have to change it; gouge its eyes out with your pen. 'Suzanne', 'If Ships Could Sail', 'Tangled Up in Blue': all behemoths, all aggressive and obtuse.
Of course this is a case of my forcing what are essentially highly personal values upon these poor people who just want to make their own music. I'm a hypocrite, a heathen and a liar. I think the band's songs need to be more daring and complex but also feel that they should strive toward cutting away the chaff to create tightly packed three minute pop songs. I revel in the blissful naivete whilst yearning for some narrative grit. I show admiration for their incorporation of faith values into their music but also feel that the religious aspect needs to be pegged back. I think that The Yearning are a good band that could be so much greater. It's up to them.

Post-script: It has been pointed out to me that the strong point about worship songs is often their simplicity. This is based on the logic that a worship songs entire purpose rests upon its message being communicated to the audience. This is fully understandable.

Visit - The Yearning (and download the whole EP when you join the mailing list)