One of the most frustrating things when listening to an album is when the album is decent-not-great, and suddenly you hear a track that just blows your socks off, relatively-speaking. Frustrating because you hear so much potential — you hear what could’ve been, what the band might have achieved on the rest of the album if only they’d done one or two things slightly differently.
Sometimes that one track can elevate and unlock the rest of the disc for you. But more often than not, the rest of the disc ends up in living that track’s shadow, serving only as either a precursor to the track, or a long, frustrating afterglow. And meanwhile, you find yourself hoping that the band hones in on what made that one track great, and somehow manages to harness it for the next recording.
I had this experience with two CDs that I’ve been listening to recently — King Elementary’s Kudzu and The Exit’s “Home For An Island” single.
Although one might be tempted to lump King Elementary in with that whole “emo” crowd — after all, they’ve got plenty of youthful emotion/angst driving their music — their music is quite a lot more straight-up indie-rock/power pop than that. Unfortunately, the power chords, distorted guitars, and snarling vocals are just not all that memorable at times, the songs just sort of running together, the formula losing its oomph over time.
That is, until you hit track 5, “Sand And Romance.” Here, the band slows down a bit, gives their music a bit more room to breathe, and goes for something a bit more epic and grandiose in scope.
I suppose some might deride it as the album’s one necessary power ballad, but I think that’s a little too dismissive. Trembling electric guitars shimmer above strummed acoustic guitars, while a growling bassline and booming drums form the song’s foundation. Vocalist Morgan Jones sounds far more worldweary than his eighteen years as he sings the song’s cryptic lyrics (“Cut the lines on the objection/Cut the rags and cover all the colors/Lower the lines on the inscription/The blue moon waits, waits to be risen”).
And then the chorus kicks in, the electric guitars becoming more dominant while eerie, spectral atmospherics add a psychedelic feel to the song. I know some might call me crazy, but I’m reminded of early U2 here, especially on albums like October where the Irishmen, still in their teens, attempted the same kind of awkward epics.
U2’s early years also serve as a ready comparison for the title track of The Exit’s Home For An Island single. Most of the 4-track release has a U2-ish feel to it, mainly due to the distorted, angular guitars that recall The Edge’s earliest playing. But the songs also have a reggae pop tint to them that feels a little awkward, especially on a song like “Back To The Rebels” (the last band that I want to be reminded of when listening to anything is Sublime). However, the title track brings all of the various pieces of The Exit’s sound together in just the right way.
For starters, there are those shards of crystalline guitars that conjure up images of The Edge and his trusty Gibson Explorer. The island feel is there as well, but muted in such a manner that gives the song an exotic cast that lends a certain playfulness to the music despite the song’s otherwise serious tone.
Sure, there are moments where the song gets a little long in the tooth — for instance, during the bridge where the guitar soloing gets a bit much. However, i’m so in love with the guitar tone that I find myself not caring one bit. This is especially true in the song’s final moments, during which The Exit achieve the same sort of post-punk/early U2-esque stylings of The Elevator Division.
Obviously, what floats my boat may not float anyone else’s. And for all I know these two tracks are the bands’ least favorite songs. However, I think that what I like most about these tracks is that they show another side to the bands’ songwriting, especially in King Elementary’s case. They reveal a bit more depth and diversity lying just below the surface, that the bands are perhaps a bit more than they might seem at first. I love musical surprises like that even if, as I said before, the surprises can be a source of frustration as well. But I suppose it gives me hope for the bands’ future efforts, that somehow they might pick up on what sets these songs apart and push it even further, and as a result, develop as songwriters and musicians.