Here’s your premise for this review. There are two ways to achieve a task: the right way and the wrong way, whether you are assembling a bookcase from IKEA (easier said than done) or making music. Oh sure, I hear you say that art is subjective and there’s no right way to express yourself. Well, that may be so, but when someone is a good craftsman, you can tell the difference between his work and someone spitting out influences and clichés. In our age, originality lies in the integrity with which a vision is presented. That’s my thesis, and I’m sticking to it.
Indoor Voices is the project of a fellow from Toronto, Canada, named Jonathan Relph. The band has already put out one long-player, Nevers, that introduced Relph’s vision of atmospheric, ethereal rock. It’s a fine release, but let’s focus on this new EP. There’s a strain of rock music that aims to achieve essentially the same function as ambient music, a lasting trance-like mood rather than visceral excitement. The roots go back to spacy Germans such as Can, Faust and Neu!, through the minimalists of post-punk like Wire, early Cure, Systems of Romance-era Ultravox, the Jesus and Mary Chain and into the 90s with modern psychedelicists and noise-rockers like My Bloody Valentine, Flying Saucer Attack and the like.
Relph’s work, knowingly or unknowingly, reflects an expert absorption of the lessons of these predecessors into a coherent sound of his own. Rock that emphasizes repetition and experimental sound for sound’s sake can be a dog’s breakfast in the wrong hands, but we are in good hands here.
Opener “Still” indeed starts off like a Faust track with whammy bar-bending guitar throbbing over a thumpy, mechanical Kraut beat, with plenty of interesting little bits churning along underneath. Relph likes to sing with a lady for harmony, the effect of which is both intimate and quite pretty, and the vocals are a bit buried, but fortunately not buried to the point of irrelevance, as in the aforementioned My Bloody Valentine (oh, sacrilege).
Track 2, “So Smart”, is a bona fide “hit”, a lilting pop song driven by the same loopy, warped but tasty guitar with a great chorus hook and a sweet melody. It’s topping the pop charts in some alternate universe where people are refined and not generally butt-stupid. This track is worth the price of admission alone.
The moodier “After” starts with a robotic beat that fits fully into Kraftwerk territory (yes, I know my references are all older…shoot me) then turns into an almost funky groove. This lazy, loping track is kind of what the Verve might have turned out eventually if they hadn’t decided to try to be all pompous and self-important. Of course, it features more pretty guy/lady harmonies.
Finally, we have “Hung Out”, which does indeed remind me of the Jesus and Mary Chain, with its understated Phil Spector-ish thump underneath big chords, and also of Flying Saucer Attack during the New Lands period.
Four great tracks, and really my only complaint is that there isn’t more of it, since the atmosphere created is consistent and it feels like this should have been part of a greater whole. Perhaps Mr. Relph has a masterwork in him, and this is just the taster. If that’s the case, I’ll be waiting for it.
Space rock ain’t dead yet!