New York City trio Blood on the Wall’s self-titled debut is possibly
the most frustrating rock record I’ve heard this year, not because of how bad it is but because of how good it COULD’VE been. The first 13 seconds of opener “Security in Neighborhoods” are enough to get any listener’s blood racing. The shuffling drums and frantically strummed guitars give me the impression that I’m listening to the resurrection of Imperial FFRR-era Unrest…until guitarist Brad Shanks opens his mouth. His atonal, unmelodic yelp makes him sound like an angry hillbilly at a karaoke bar straining to hear himself clearly over the PA. The louder he “sings” the worse he sounds, and the effect of his vocal seizures on the otherwise compelling
music is tantamount to smearing feces on a Picasso.
Blood on the Wall’s vocal duties are evenly split between Brad and his bass-playing sister Courtney. When Courtney takes the microphone, she opts for a spoken style that is reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, but possesses neither her sexiness nor her range. Yes, I already know that Kim doesn’t have much of a range to begin with…which is my point. Courtney’s voice is definitely more pleasurable than Brad’s, but she’s merely the lesser of two evils. It also doesn’t help matters that the songs Courtney songs boast bafflingly redundant lyrics like “Good boys don’t go to bed early/They like to stay up late” and “Baby, when I kissed you/Your lips were on my mouth.“ Listeners shouldn’t have to choose between being irritated and being bored, which is why Brad and Courtney are probably the least compelling coed vocal duo in all of rock. The guy can’t sing and the girl doesn’t even TRY to.
The band’s vocal deficiencies are a crying shame because the actual
songs that the Shanks siblings and their drumming buddy Miggy Littleton create are some of the catchiest and hyper-kinetic I’ve heard in a while. The synth-speckled “Mae Abilene” would be on every mix CD I make for the next six months if Brad didn’t insist on singing consistently flat. The Velvet Underground-aping ballad “Let’s Heal Properly” would be a hypnotic slice of “plagal cadence” if Brad’s voice didn’t crack every time he veered outside of his two-note range. “Pretty Pretty” would rank up there with every ode that Sonic Youth’s written about NYC if Brad didn’t…okay, I think you get the point by now. This album has a looseness and intimacy that makes me feel like I’m listening to three very good friends having fun in their practice space, right down to the false starts and bits of studio chatter. In this world of pristine yet lifeless ProTools mega-productions, such a thing would normally be a breath of fresh air. However, I strongly feel that this band should’ve tapped a fourth member who could actually sing before committing these songs to tape.