Fear Is On Our Side
By: Michael Jones
I've been hearing about the wonders of Austin, Texas' music scene for
years – The Butthole Surfers in the late '80's and an ill-conceived
shoegaze/psychedelic movement in the mid-'90's did little to convince me that anything noteworthy came from this city. That is, until …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Spoon, and I Love You But I Have Chosen Darkness showed that Austin's music scene was being backed by music as epic as the hype people were laying down.
On their last release, the stunning "According to Plan" 12-inch , I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness exorcized all traces of the indie-pop of its 2003 self-titled debut EP in favor of brooding epics and finally began penning songs worthy of their portentous name. On their first full-length LP, they show great promise, but also fall victim to the uncertainty of a band drastically altering their sound and trying too hard to make grandiose statements.
Having scrapped the initial sessions for this album, the band reconvened with Ministry's Paul Barker producing. The union has mixed results: Barker brings his pristine sonics to the proceedings, but the band's sometimes-lackluster performances and overwrought compositions dull the impact. Take the album's opener, "The Ghost," an amazing song that builds towards what should have been a memorable climax but fails to deliver in the crucial moment. Imagine all the tension of Slint's "Good Morning, Captain" without the cathartic release. I imagine it slays live, though. Well, if those distorted guitars have the proper volume behind them and singer Christian Goyer projects the wonderfully macabre lyrics "I think about how I miss you/and how I will remain…" as if he were actually the dearly departed ghost of the song's title.
I praised the band's particular arranging skills in my former review, but over the course of an album it seems as if they are going out of their way to avoid standard song structures. Sometimes this works; sometimes it doesn't: intros go on too long and offer little payoff when the choruses finally kick in; lyrical phrases are repeated ad nauseam when that space could've been used to expand the narrative; genius riffs and phrases that should be a focal point are forgotten after a few repetitions and moody atmosphere takes precedence over actual hooks.
The album does succeed in most ways, however. The reworking of "According to Plan" is tougher and thicker than the minimalist 12-inch version. "Lights" is – dare I say it – almost perky in an album of dirges and the final third of the album, particularly the final number, the mind-boggling "If It Was Me”, is astounding. When the band plays to its strengths, it is unstoppable and worthy of every last bit of hype and expectation that has been directed toward them since their debut. The members all display a mastery of their respective instruments, and have the ambition and talent to make great records. But perhaps they should consider doing it one EP at a time.