If there’s a word to describe This Sad Movie, it’d have to be “sprawling.” With 13 tracks spread over 74 minutes, there’s a lot of material on here to chew through, both musically and thematically. Lyrically, the album follows the tried and true topic of relationships and their ups and downs, with lyrics that often sound better when delivered by Kristy Moss’ lovely voice than when read on paper. Then again, shoegazers have never been known for being terribly novel when it came to lyrics. Rather, it’s the album’s sonics that can provide its most daunting element.
If there was ever an example of “too much of a good thing,” it would This Sad Movie. It’s not that Con Dolore employs questionable sounds, or that the many directions their album takes are disappointing. That’s not the problem at all. However, the album tries to incorporate a vast array of sounds and musical elements, especially during its midsection, and not without some loss of cohesion.
The album opens in fine form, with the solemn piano-based “Opening Theme” giving way to the airy keyboards and dreamy vocals of “The 7th.” While the lyrics drift dangerously close to treacly, the layers and layers of vocals in the song’s latter portion could make any lyric sound gorgeous.
“She Said Goodbye” is one of the album’s finest compositions, an airy piece where all of the instruments and vocals are polished to a glassy sheen. The song seems intent on drifting away and not even the Sea And Cake-like percussion, which relies heavily on marimbas and shakers, add much weight to the song. Only Wes Snowden’s graceful bassline anchors the song, and even that bond feels like it could snap whenever the song transitions into the bouncy chorus.
Almost immediately after this, the album enters a period where it seems to lack any sort of musical direction. The band shifts from effects-laden guitars to more electronic-oriented fragments to Steve Reich-esque percussion pieces. Taken individually, they’re pretty enough, but when placed in succession, it makes for a confusing, meandering listen.
“Feed Us All” is the best example of this. At 7 minutes, it’s one of the album’s longest tracks, but the band doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with all of that time. If I didn’t look at the stereo, I’d be convinced that I’d just gone through 3 or 4 songs, ranging from the punchy opening movement to a more bombastic middle section to the closing minutes’ shifting pianos and marimbas. It doesn’t help that the song features some of the album’s weaker lyrics. The only saving grace of passages like “It’s cold in here/And made of fear/Get out of here/The end is near” is that they’re delivered by Moss’ vocals (whose merits I’ve already espoused).
“Fractions of a Second” (parts 1 and 2) come off more as experiments, late night studio jams that the band deemed cool enough to include on the album. Granted, “Fractions of a Second 2” is a pretty interesting listen, with stuttering rhythms and a funky bassline creating a nice foundation for Moss’ wispy vocals. However, even that piece feels disjointed as it gives way to one of those Reich-esque marimba segues the band is so fond of sprinkling throughout the album. One wishes the band would get their love for Reich over with and just turn all of those pretty little pieces into a single, gorgeous song.
It gets to the point where I don’t even know what song I’m listening to, which is a problem when I just want to jump to those tracks which truly display Con Dolore in all of their glory. “The Happy Girl” is a godsend for those of us still in love with Slowdive’s Just For A Day, as Moss’ vocals and the delicate cascades of chiming guitars embrace each other during the song’s gorgeous climax. Likewise, “Unexpected Love” is an audio daydream, with Moss’ vocals taking on a gauzy feel and guitars drifting by cloud-like. It’s unfortunate that moments as wondrous as these often feel lost in the shuffle.
To some extent, I can understand the album’s disjointed feel. The album’s lyrics often deal with the shifting emotions and sensations that accompany relationships. Con Dolore just isn’t capable of always pulling it off, though. This Sad Movie has many moments where their sound coalesces into something truly beautiful. However, their disjointed approach often breaks into that, becoming far too conspicuous and heavy-handed for its own good.
Apparently, their followup album (Sailor’s Warning) adopts a more focused approach. If so, I find that very encouraging, because This Sad Movie’s most enjoyable moments, such as “She Said Goodbye” or “The Happy Girl,” occur only when the band settles down and keeps their focus.