September 07, 2004

Chromatics "Plaster Hounds"

Mark E. Smith, lead vocalist of the Fall, has made underground rock safe for people who can‘t sing. That’s not necessarily a good thing, though. MES gets away with not being able to carry a tune because he has an abundance of both confidence and compositional skill. He doesn’t need to sing to get his point across because his shouting is compelling enough to get your attention. His lyrics are consistently funny and interesting, and the music behind him is consistently catchy and propulsive (if not always melodic and danceable). Unfortunately, underground rock is slowly being flooded with diluted versions of MES who think that refusing to carry a tune is enough to get them mentioned in the same sentence as the Fall. They don’t bother to harness their vocal delivery into anything more than bad karaoke, nor do their backing bands bother to sculpt their accompaniment into anything remotely resembling a song…which brings me to Adam Miller and his band the Chromatics.

The Chromatics’ latest album Plaster Hounds is a pastiche of trendy, tone-deaf influences that never congeals into anything truly original or interesting. In fact, most of the songs on the album can be broken down to a fairly simple formula. The rhythm section does most of the work while the guitarist plays as little as possible and shouts as much as possible. Just in case anyone accuses the band of cribbing from Public Image Limited‘s “death disco,” drummer Ronald Avila makes it a point to fall out of the pocket every once in a while. Everyone puts just enough thought into the music to keep it from sounding improvised, but not enough to make it sound truly organized. The vocals and guitar are run through inordinate amounts of reverb, and the whole thing generally sounds as if it was recorded on four-track in a dank and sweaty basement. Every couple of tracks, the Chromatics throw in a song full of flatulent synthesizers and basic drum programming, just to prove that they own a couple of Suicide albums as well.

There are only two songs on this record that I can listen to without flinching. “Garden” is one of the few songs in which Miller actually plays a melody on his guitar (and a rather memorable one with an almost snake, and “Program” is an excellent Silver Apples cover that proves that Miller can actually sing if he puts his mind to it. Overall, though, Plaster Hounds is a 30-minute serving of undercooked art-punk that, considering its brief running time, shouldn’t be such an endurance test. In the album’s liner notes, you can find a poster from a show in which the band opened for the Fall. While I don’t blame them for bragging about it, I also don’t think that 20 years from now I’ll be seeing any young bands brag about opening for the Chromatics.

--Sean Padilla

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