Friday, May 14, 2010

Albums: The Depreciation Guild - Spirit Youth

Spirit Youth (Depreciation Guild)
Album: Spirit Youth
Kanine, 2010
Rating: ***** (5/10)

So Depreciation Guild are three attractive (if short-ish) guys who play electronics and guitars and make electro-shoegaze-pop. It's a good enough combination to pique my interest and the interest of quite a few young hipsters as well. But the band is starting to wear thin already.

Spirit Youth starts with cheesy electronics that open into a reasonably dense wall of sound and an interesting-enough melody. If the album kept this up, it would be decent, even interesting, but only three or four minutes in, the melody shifts to something off Top 40* radio - you know, where the guy's voice drifts around to a bunch of notes so that the tweenage girls think he's so talented. Not that Depreciation Guild are trying to win over tweenage girls - but then again, maybe they are.

The lyrics are deeply lamentable. A song titled "Crucify You" doesn't exactly bode well and it certainly lives up to expectations: "Sometimes I can't control the things I do / but you know I always want the best for you / ...I will crucify you." Yikes. And the rest of the album follows similar lines, although luckily, sometimes the lyrics aren't really audible.

With the highish, processed male vocals, Depreciation Guild sound like Mew but without the darkness and volume that keeps Mew at least semi-interesting. Instead, Spirit Youth is flowery and sappy and even formulaic. I like a good pop melody, but a good pop melody is like the Beatles or even like Depreciation Guild's Kurt Feldman's other band, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. It's not this formless three note banality.

Now, the shoegazer in me does have to give the band some credit. Each song is packed with a shimmering wall of sound and the arrangements - electronic lines cutting in and out, layer upon layer of processed guitar, it's good, solid, dreamy noise pop. There's nothing amateurish about Spirit Youth, particularly where sonic polish is concerned. Every sound in every song seems painstakingly shaped and mixed, forming lush waves of noise that few bands could match.

However, the sonic success is not enough to really make this album worthwhile. Twice, I tried to relisten to this album today to refresh my memory for the review, and both times, I could only sit through a few songs, all with the same sound, same tempo and same nebulous sort of melody, before I shut it down and turned on Sleigh Bells.

Hey, at least the album art is cool! [myspace]

* There are some good songs in the Top 40 from time to time. I am just referring to the bad Top 40 songs. And that is the majority.


cooljerk said...

hey, i guess everyone's entitled to an opinion...even someone like yourself whose knowledge of music is as limited as it is transparant...but (unlike yourself) i hesitate to speak about someone i don't really know...anyway, to get off that subject--music is subjective and how good it is really depends on the who is doing the listening...but some things can be measured and just to set the facts straight, kurt is 6 feet, 1 and 3/4" tall

radioflyer said...

Wow, that's so weird. I didn't mean the height comment as a jab, but for some reason, I really thought they were all shorter than that. And I do know them in person, but obviously haven't seen them in quite a while. Well, I stand corrected.

Music is subjective, indeed, but I would have to say how good it is depends more on, you know, how good it is. I was editor of my lit mag in high school (yes, I know) and this one girl on our staff - incidentally when we were going to leave out her friend's poem - said "I think, like, the author is, like, really like trying to say something and, like, we can't judge a poem by like the words that the author chooses." I guess I have a different outlook.

cooljerk said...

(with no ill intent)...with a staff like that, it's no wonder they made you editor...hey, y'know what?...i didn't want to make an issue out of the short/tall thing...only to say that i happen to know the band AND quite a bit about music (no boasting; just a fact), in response to your reporting/criticism, i beg to differ...kurt is a talented and versatile musician as well as a wonderful songwriter...these guys work extremely hard at what they do...of course none of this means that you have to like it...but given the forum you have (it is, after all, YOUR blog) i wondered what prompted you to speak negatively about the band's work, when there is so much beautiful and stimulating music occuring within those complex layers of sound...i just thought you might have noticed it...a reporter (at least a good one) has the responsibility to his readers not merely to give her opinion but to form that opinion from a careful examination of the facts (or music, in this case)...and that was my purpose in calling your attention to kurt's height.

radioflyer said...

Cooljerk, your point about the height is well taken. However, I am very knowledgeable about music and I was much more careful with what I wrote about the music than what I wrote about the band's height.

Just to be clear, I never said Kurt was not talented nor that the band was not hard-working. I just said that this album missed the mark. I was a big fan of Dep Guild when they first started but they haven't evolved yet past that one good idea of a sound that got them started. The basic contours of the melodies on Spirit Youth follow the same patterns in every song (except the first song, which I do like) and despite the band's obvious attention to detail in arranging, engineering and mixing the album, the sonic palate also does not very from track to track. The range of tempos on the album is narrow at best. The lyrics are cliche.

I write music reviews and I generally don't think it is very interesting or helpful to write only positive things. If I think an album is weak, I say so. I don't know what's so baffling about the existence of a negative review. But it's not a review of Kurt or his band as musicians let alone as human beings. It is a review of one album which, after many listens over the course of weeks, I decided I wouldn't recommend.

One thing I like about writing in a blog is that there is a comment section and I appreciate that you took the time to read and respond. If you would like to be more specific about what you believe the merits of Spirit Youth to be, maybe that would be helpful to people who stumble across this. Feel free.