On first listen, Karmageddon might seem a bit of a hodgepodge, as if local band GHOSTS doesn't know exactly what it wants to sound like. The band takes obvious liberties with its influences and does not hesitate to reconsider mashing together disparate styles of music throughout the 12-track album. Although the initial sound of the release is rooted in '70s piano pop and psychedelic rock, these mortal genres cannot hope to contain the volatile band for long.
GHOSTS gladly cherry picks and plunders its way through the local music store's dusty vinyl section allowing happenstance and humor to guide the way. From the booty shaking electro-funk of "U Make This Better 4 Me," a stand out track that feels like a forgotten Daft Punk demo, to the mandolin sway of "Just Say Something," a folk song that organically swells and saddles a country beat before concluding, it becomes apparent that all bets are off. "No, we can't do that," is probably not in the band's musical vocabulary.
The album starts off thunderously enough with a short instrumental aptly titled "Bonham Jamz," a fierce riffage face-off between fuzz bass and Al Pagano's drum chops, before launching into the title track.
The song "Karmageddon" is an anthemic exaltation ("We're all right! You're all right!"), a well-placed gem during the band's live sets, but the recorded version of the song falls flat in comparison and leaves the listener wanting something bigger and more bombastic.
Following the title track is the most traditional pop fare the band has to offer "Dogpatch USA," a catchy piano-led song that will have the audience singing along by the second chorus; the sign of any good pop composition. Vocalist Garrett Weindorf takes us back to that whimsical theme park of the same name in Arkansas and laments its closing combining memory and nostalgia for what can only live on in our minds.
At this point Karmageddon reaches critical mass and begins to dissolve into whims of ambition and playfulness. Song styles begin to meld and become less predictable as the band smears aural boundaries and throws everything from a Speak and Spell to a slide whistle into the mix. The middle of the album is stacked with the aforementioned "U Make this Better 4 Me" followed by "Waiting for Yourself," an emotive Eastern percussion tinged track that borders on some kind of trippy post new age.
All of this genre dropping might seem excessive, but GHOSTS is experimental in the best sense, i.e. no 10-minute excursions of drone and noise; just a band doing whatever the hell they want. And there are rewards abound for repeated listens.
As the dedicated listener revisits this collage of styles and melodies again and again, certain cohesiveness begins to form. The indefinite and blurred lines of Karmageddon become small patches of oscillating watercolors blending, nudging, overlapping and ultimately complementing one another. There is rationality behind their randomness.
For all of the humor and silliness that GHOSTS displays on Karmageddon there are occasional moments where the band violates their façade of fun and lets the audience get a glimmer of their vulnerability. Although the lyrics of a song like the ballad "You are Me" are largely clichéd: "Hard to swallow/ Words so hollow/ Today is gone/ Here comes tomorrow," coming from court jesters like Weindorf and company, there seems to be an emotional weight in the attempt at seriousness that would not otherwise be there.
And there resides one of GHOSTS' greatest strengths.
Their charismatic musical personalities underscore the whole album and can talk the open-minded listener into anything. All we have to do is believe in GHOSTS. --C.M. Rodriguez
Taking Back Sunday
Warner Brother Records
New Again might seem an appropriate title for Taking Back Sunday, especially considering the fact that its sophomore release for Warner Brothers is its first since the departure of Fred Mascherino and addition of guitarist Matt Fazzi. Even with the infusion of new blood, however, it isn't a completely exciting ride for the fans.
Adam Lazarra is left in the driver's seat vocally, and it's not his lack of vocal interplay with Mascherino, which leaves this record wanting. If anything, that just might be the focusing factor here. After jumping out of the gate with the anthemic statement of the title track "Sink Into Me," which Rolling Stone proclaimed the best track on the disc, everything starts to sound the same.
You know the problem: much like many of the crop of emo-pop bands struggling to find their identity as they mature, establishing a new identity proves difficult. All of the proper elements are there: driving guitars, earnest vocals and a sense of urgency. There are even a couple of good riffs here, ala "Summer, Man," which recalls the band just post Tell All Your Friends.
"Where My Mouth Is" is an effective change of pace and an engaging ballad, providing a break in the pace is possible in the highlight of the disc. Individually, the two tracks which follow, "Cut me Up Jenny" and "Catholic Knees," grab your attention with good guitar riffs and a delivery that draws favorable comparisons to The Killers. When sequenced together, however, they tend to wash together and lose their individual personalities.
Ultimately, New Again sees Taking Back Sunday working to reestablish its identity and grow up a bit after its latest shift in membership, with mixed success. While it won't turn off old fans by any means, it probably won't grow its fan base by leaps and bounds either. It does show promise for a more cohesive future, however, and shines with the energy that the band is known for in its live show -- which is where the band arguably lives and breathes with its fans anyway. In that sense, it's a success in providing a path into the bands future.
Tip: Taking Back Sunday will be co-headlining Cain's Ballroom with All-American Rejects and opening act Anberlin on Wednesday, Nov. 25. --G.K.Hizer
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