10/31/11 Trinity* (Bristol, UK)
11/01/11 Shepherds Bush Empire* (London, UK)
11/04/11 Library at HMV Institute* (Birmingham, UK)
11/05/11 Rescue Rooms* (Nottingham, UK)
11/14/11 Manchester Cathedral* (Manchester, UK)
11/15/11 Oran Mor* (Glasgow, UK)
11/16/11 The Cockpit* (Leeds, UK)
11/17/11 Sneaky Pete's (Edinburgh, Scotland)
11/19/11 Vicar Street* (Dublin, IRE)
11/20/11 The Empire* (Belfast, IRE)
* w/ Anna Calvi
The last band I saw before we left was Halloween, Alaska, who ended their set with a Bruce Springsteen song, "State Trooper". Which actually doesn't sound like any Springsteen song I've ever heard (and that's the best part).
On its face, everything sounds fine; soothing semi-ambient synth, largely vocally driven, never falling back on poppy electro drum beats to prop them up, though occasionally rocking out with a fuzzy guitar just to remind you they can – an extra gear they usually reserve for live shows but occasionally display in recorded material. The oh-so-lovely dulcet tones of James Diers’ vocals impart a relaxing warmth which immediately sets a calming tone. Nothing wrong there. Just what I’ve come to expect – and come to love – tracks that come to a slow boil, intelligent lyrics, a refreshingly askew approach toward verse-bridge-chorus conventions. Unfortunately, it only rarely comes together quite as properly as it could; there always seems to be a chorus that falls just short (“You Are Not Well,” “Analogue”) or a line that gets shoehorned into a verse which doesn’t have room for it (“The Jealous Ones”). Or the opposite; a mediocre song suddenly belts into an amazing chorus (“Dead Air,” “3:1”), abruptly reminding one that this is a great band which is capable of so much more.
It's worth noting, there are some lyrical gems worth mining in this album. The line “nonplussed by dissonance” from “Dance by Accident” is my favorite three-word turn of phrase since the Decemberists’ “purloined in Petrograd,” and I enjoy “Empire Waist” with its “peeling imperial skin.”
So what’s the verdict? Good band, fair album. It simply feels a bit rushed. I’m actually curious to see them perform some of the new material in a live setting as I suspect they will have sanded away some of the rough edges since the album was recorded. In the meantime, I’ll continue to appreciate their previous ones.