By: Eric G.
Gathering up all of your indie rock friends to play on your album isn’t really a new idea or even a very good one. U.N.K.L.E. and The Sixths have both done it to varying degrees of success, but Olympia, Washington’s Paul Schuster has taken this sly marketing ploy and made a record that, at the very least, runs against the grain. Sure, all of Paul’s friends are slightly more famous than he, raising obvious questions about his motives, but he did play keyboards in the latter day incarnation of Some Velvet Sidewalk and has produced an handful of records by the likes of Julie Ruin and The Spells.
Featuring… purports to be an experiment in electronic music. Schuster passed out just over a dozen tracks to various friends like Kathleen Hanna and Calvin Johnson with the idea that they would contribute whatever they felt the songs lacked. Most contributed vocals while a few played guitar, melodica or theramin. The result may be eclectic but not exactly a consistent effort, despite the presence of such underground luminaries as Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and Justin Trosper of Unwound.
“Secret Adversary” is a misguided attempt at funk with fey vocals that sound like a bad B-52’s caricature with male and female spoken word interplay. Lois lends her timid and wavering voice to the techno soul ballad “Hope”, which works despite the strange marriage of Lois’ patently indie rock voice and the bubbling electronics. Schuster’s former bandmate Al Larsen does a good John S. Hall impersonation on “The Skin”, which features definitively dark guitar work from Carrie Brownstein.
“Stepping Up To The Mic” is by far the catchiest song on the record. Schuster lays down a big beat with a repetitive bass riff and jangly guitars while he mixes in shards of guitar noise. It sounds patched together like the old school remixes from the early eighties. Kathleen Hanna’s spoken word segment flows well until she breaks into her affected and nasal singing voice. “Talk Too Loud” is unlistenable because of Tae Won Yu’s (Kicking Giant)tuneless and tone deaf vocals.
It’s a shame that Schuster’s friends demand so much attention because his songs rarely benefit from the intrusion. Only “Quantize” and “I/E” sound improved upon by the outside talent. Justin Trosper’s dueling guitar bits turn “Quantize” into the aural assault it was meant to be, and Calvin Johnson’s melodica fits right in with Schuster’s bass heavy grooves in “I/E.” Featuring… sounds forced and awkward like a gawky teen in his first band trying to decide what musical direction to pursue.