Friday, July 20, 2007

a week in EPs day #5: land of talk - applause cheer boo hiss

i mean, after this and this, were you honestly expecting something else? i don't think it could be much clearer than land of talk is one of my new favorites, and that applause cheer boo hiss is one of the best albums i've heard this year (it was released last year, but i was slow getting on the wagon). i know i've dumped a lot of land of talk on you lately, but bear with me, and if you glossed over the last posts cuz you're not a fan, let me try and change your mind.

land of talk's sound is huge - much bigger than the three people in the band. that much is obvious at first blush, the captivating "speak to me bones," the album's first and most engaging track. what a hell of a way to introduce your sound - a long, distorted note, backed by a steady, sparse drum beat for eight measures, and then to introduce a new riff, under the old one, so that you would never think there was only one guitar player, who also does double duty as vocalist. lizzie powell fronts the trio, and is obviously the main creative force behind their sound and success. her voice is given a bit of echo in production, which definitely adds to its allure, but their powerful live shows prove that she can sing on her own two feet. her voice is husky without being sensual, raw and untrained - the depth of her range complements land of talk's heavy sound perfectly. powell's voice and lyrics are like a skinned knee - it's not deep enough to hurt, but you can still see the blood oozing through. the anxiety of her voice propels "speak to me bones" through all of its three-and-a-half minutes, and the deliberate abruptness of her guitar, coupled with the constantly resounding cymbals and accelerating tempo, increases the feeling of unease in the music. land of talk may be one of the few bands that presently, obviously traces its lineage back to grunge and riot grrl rock of the early 90s - everyone else seems in a big hurry to forget that time. even if applause cheer boo hiss is nothing else, however, it is proof that we all need some distortion in our lives.

after the pummeling onslaught of "speak to me bones," land of talk's bold foray into the collective consciousness, powell & co. turn the angst down a tad for "sea foam," probably the closet thing they have to a single (and that's stretching the concept). powell sagely advises her listeners not to drink when they're tired, and the music mimics the lethargy of her voice, but only for a moment. before the one minute mark, the rhythmic jitters are back, and the first evidence for harmonizing with it. i am always amazed when vocalists manage to sing and play guitar at the same time, and powell's instrumentation, both here and throughout the album, is so deft that her multi-tasking alone should induce admiration. she is an immensely talented guitarist and songwriter, writing compelling verses and equally commanding choruses, but my favorite parts of land of talk songs always seem to be the bridges. i don't know what it is, but their bridges are so fucking good, especially in "sea foam." it practically makes the whole song, the quick and flawless time and key change that transforms the song from a head-nodder into a hip-mover and foot-stomper - the best thing is, all of their bridges are this good.

land of talk's musical savvy and ingenuity alone would set them apart from many bands, so the quality of powell's delivery is like icing on the cake. as i said above, the tenor of her voice complements their dusky, nearly lo-fi sound extremely well, but songs like "summer special" and "all my friends" are even better because of powell's words, and the way she sings them. "summer special" has the lyric "look at those girls / so young so young / still piss their pants," which catches any casual listener's ear, delivered in powell's blase, matter-of-fact voice. "all my friends" on the other hand, has less out-and-out enjoyable lyrics, but it does have applause cheer boo hiss's sole curse - powell drops the f-bomb in every chorus. "all my friends" has a sweet-ass breakdown in the middle of the song that features some of the dirtiest guitar work on the whole album, and the slight distance in the vocal production makes the whole song sound rawer than the music alone would.

applause cheer boo hiss is seven songs long, which has led to it being called a "mini album," but i don't really buy into that. my definition of an EP is any musical work that isn't a single and is less than 30 minutes, and applause cheer boo hiss comes in just under the wire. like woman king, applause cheer boo hiss is more than a conventional EP, perhaps, though i would suggest that almost every EP i've reviewed this week falls into that category. land of talk's charisma is crystal clear on every song, and this is a case where more of the same is never a bad thing. "breaxxbaxx" and "magnetic hill" are the physical heart of the album, the fourth and fifth songs, the real aural meat. while both are excellent, neither is truly a standout - i'm trying to delicately describe these two songs because i don't want you to get the wrong impression. if this album was released this year, it would definitely be in my top list, despite the fact that i'm have trouble keeping "breaxxbaxx" and "magnetic hill" separate in my head. they are excellent songs, and whenever i listen to them, i enjoy them, but there isn't anything different between them and the rest of applause cheer boo hiss. powell's voice is just as rough around the edges and the music is just as distorted (and the bridges are just as good), but they are somewhat indistinguishable for me. it doesn't affect my overall appreciation for land of talk (obviously), but it's still tricky. my suggestion if you haven't heard them yet: go buy the album, and you decide. it's pretty fucking worth it.

land of talk - "sea foam," "all my friends" - buy applause cheer boo hiss here.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Yeah, I totally agree.
After seeing them live, LoT are once again in heavy rotation.
BTW, I stuck a link to your blog on mine here: