August 22, 2003

Roomtone "Lay Awake"

Roomtone is an amazing band from Los Angeles, and their album, Lay Awake, is one of the most impressive, awe-inspiring debuts I've heard all year. It's quite obvious that Roomtone mastermind Nico Chiotellis listened to--and, more importantly, studied--some of the best albums of the last decade (OK Computer, Grace, The Death of Cool, even Stoned & Dethroned) and realized that not only could he do the same, he could do better. Roomtone sound expertly "modern." Mixing one part Grace with two dashes of OK Computer and just a hint of Parachutes might not be the most original recipe for music these days, but if you're good at what you do, then does it really matter? Lay Awake might be indebted to Britpop, it is never anything less than 100% original, and the sound--an epic sound--is one that they can truly call their own.

Roomtone's not-so-secret weapon is their mastermind, Nico Chiotellis. It's clear that the man is an extremely talented musician, as he plays all of the non-rhythm section instruments on Lay Awake, save for the guest electric guitar player. Not only does he play them, he breathes a level of excellence into their parts. He's not a slouch on any of them, either.That they are but a three piece, with Chiotellis playing most everything, save for percussion and bass, makes it even more impressive. It takes a lot of damn gall to kick off your debut album with a seven-minute epic like "Laugh in the Dark," but Roomtone can pull it off as if there were no Thom Yorke.

Luckily, "Laugh in the Dark" is not the highlight of the album--in fact, I'd say it's the weakest out of a whole album of strong songs--though it's more than lesser bands could possibly hope for. Starting off with a quiet guitar pick and the sound of rolling wind and thunder, it turns into something quite grand the minute Chiotellis open his mouth. When the rest of the band joins in, the song turns into a beautiful, cinematic experience that many bands attempt but very few successfully create. By the end of the song, you're left emotionally spent, for the highs and the lows of "Laugh in the Dark" will indeed leave you wanting more. You're forgiven if you hit 'repeat' the first few times, but I wouldn't do it too much, as there are other songs on Lay Awake --and they're all wonderful.

And what songs they are! From the dreamy, haunting "Premonitions" to the driving "Fool's Gold" and "Radio" and the stoned 'n' dethroned folk countryish hints of "Lay Awake" and ""Captain," Lay Awake travels the emotional trail from sadness to fear and back through anger and regret, and you'll love every moment of it. You'll certainly be blown away--that's for certain. That they do it all without sounding too contrived is even more impressive. After all of the electronic moments and the utter passion of intensity, emotion and hurt, the album closes on the quiet, sad ballad "Let Time Stand Still." Nico sings with a hungover croon that will draw you in and make you feel the pain and make you realize that somewhere in the world, it's 4:00 AM and someone's coming down from an evening of debauchery.

While there might be some obvious debts to other bands, don't let the fact that some of these songs sound vaguely familiar bother you. After all, were the Beatles, The Who, Rolling Stones--are their debut records known for being particularly original or innovative? Nope. It takes a little bit of time for a band or an artist to truly find their voice. Lay Awake is one heck of a impressive debut album, and Roomtone are clearly looking back from their influences, blowing them farewell kisses, and are on the verge of greatness and well-earned acclaim. Until then, it's best to sit back and let Lay Awake leave you breathless and slack-jawed. Perhaps the debut of the year, and a certain highlight of a year full of excellent music.

--Joseph Kyle

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