September 14, 2004

Desert City Soundtrack "Perfect Addiction"

Portland’s Desert City Soundtrack started off as a screaming and yelling band that happened to have a piano and a trumpet. Over time, their music grew heavier, darker and deeper; by the time of 2003’s excellent debut Funeral Car, the band had mutated from a punk band with a novel arrangement into something more; comparisons to Black Heart Procession were not unheard of, nor were such comparisons inappropriate. Funeral Car’s melancholic, depressing songs lived up to the bleak title. Songs about death, failures in relationships and all sorts of self-loathing were highlighted by dark atmospherics and lots and lots and lots of pain.

Perfect Addiction, the band’s latest offering, delves even further into Funeral Car’s darkness. For the most part, the band has eschewed the screaming and the loud thrashing punk-rock of earlier releases; instead, they’ve focused on making songs that are dark, deep and depressing. The result is an album that’s cold…very, very cold. At times, Perfect Addiction delves into Smog-like depths; songs like “It’s Not That Bad” and “Watering Hole” have lyrics that can generously be called ‘self-depreciating.’ After all, it’s hard to smile to lyrics like “Stopped in a local watering hole, the same place you found to hate me/ Strange, a year later I see you there - we're not talking” (from “Watering Hole”) or “There are bodies scattered in the yard, while wolves are screaming at the door/There's no protection for you here, it's everyone for themselves” (from “Mothball Fleet (Counterattack)”). Only once, on the excellent “No Signal,” does the band ever abandon the melancholy for more raucous sounds, but even then, it’s still drenched in the melancholy that saturates the rest of the album.

Though the music is terribly bleak, there’s something magical about Perfect Addiction. Underneath all of the depression, underneath all of the things that make Desert City Soundtrack’s music so frustratingly challenging, an obvious fact cannot be denied: Perfect Addiction is simply, utterly beautiful. Lead singer Matt Carrillo sings in a style that’s torn between quiet desperation to sad resignation, and tempered with the band’s beautiful arrangements, his words ring out of the pits of despair. Indeed, it’s the piano accompaniment on tracks like “Whatever the Cost,” “Playing the Martyr” and “Batteries” that makes Desert City Soundtrack music much better than other pity-party bands. At times, their music sounds not unlike Nick Cave’s latter piano-and-orchestra drenched output, and this is not an easy feat for any band.

This young band has matured quite rapidly since they appeared four years ago, and this maturity is not only quite impressive, it’s also proof that Desert City Soundtrack may just be one of America’s better unknown bands. Even in its simplicity, Perfect Addiction is a stunning record, and it’s one that still sounds good after multiple listens.

--Joseph Kyle

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