Saturday, July 17, 2004

44. Chomsky - Let's Get To Second (2004)

I came across Chomsky in that accidental way I often seem to encounter bands. I first heard of them in 2001, when they were featured in the recommendations on the XTC website, Chalkhills. Not a week later a friend told me about this new band that was named after the liberal theorist Noam Chomsky. Taking these two signs to heart, I decided to seek out their record, Onward Quirky Soldiers, sound unheard. My search became the perfect illustration of why playing hard-to-get works. The more I struck out in finding it (even from online sources), the more I wanted it.

And then one day in the used Cheapo bins, there it was! I got home, peeled the price sticker off, opened the case, and found nothing there. I went back, but the CD itself was nowhere to be had. I decided to keep the case and, rather than resuming my frustrating search, download the songs and burn the CD myself.

Of course this also proved to be an ordeal. When I searched Kazaa for their songs, I found countless snippets of speeches by the aforementioned Mr.Chomsky, but precious few songs by the band. When I did find them they would sometimes break off in the middle of download, or be so slow that I simply couldn't wait for the download to finish. Sometimes I'd get the song only to discover that it was a murky live version. It was several weeks before I was finally able to complete my task. By that point I was too spent to enjoy the results. And I wasn't the only one. I'm assuming that first record did absolutely nothing commercially since people who wanted to buy and download it had such a hard time, and I never heard about the band again.

Now with the neo-new-wave movement (Interpol, The Stills, !!!, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Franz Ferdinand) quickly overtaking the neo-garage-rock movement as the primary focus for magazines and critics, Chomsky have an ideal opportunity with their new record, Let's Get To Second. This one I came across a couple of weeks ago at a listening station at the Electric Fetus, completely unaware it had been released. There were several copies awaiting purchase, and when I got home the CD was in the case. We were off to a much more promising start!

To describe their sound, the Dallas band cheekily call themselves alt-reggae. I think robot rock works better. The guitar riffs are choppy but constant, and the rhythms are stuttering. Even lead singer Sean Halleck yelping voice sounds like it's been programmed. But I can't stop listening to this album. It insinuates itself. Every song has multiple memorable layers, a keyboard part, a guitar riff, a harmony vocal, a melodic shift. Tunes like Doves, Animal, and Clockwork might not wow you on first listen, but the next thing you know, you're hitting the repeat button.

Three songs are recycled off of their previous album (as well as one from their debut) and have been given a production spit-shine. The build-it-up-break-it-down dynamics of Light especially benefit from the polishing. It turns the song into a perfect opening tone-setter.

Given that the band's music is so mannered and mechanical this album is not the place to look for passion and emotion. Therefore, most of the lyrics are very utilitarian, designed to move the melody along and not be too distracting, but Doves is almost the exception. It seems to be a straightforward sad song. The opening lines: "Can't get my hand around my heart / Will it live or break apart / fall away and float off in the dark." But as the song goes on we don't get much more than that. The narrator doesn't even seem completely clear what's happening. Our hero could easily be a robot who has experienced emotion for the first time but doesn't know what to do with it.

The album cover is a black background with a hypnotizing wallpaperish pattern of shiny silver overlapping circles. And there's a song on the album called Circles. Coincidence? On the inside tray there's an Asteroids-looking spaceship shooting a circle of transparent blocks. The photo of the band on the back features spacesuits penciled over them. This is exactly in line with the retro-futuristic style of Chomsky's music. In fact, maybe they should have called themselves Asimov or Heinlein instead.

Rating: B+
Fave Song:
Doves

Fun fact: All of the songs have a one word title. AND, their first album would have earned the same distinction if not for the pesky Herod's Daughter and Straight Razor.

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