September 12, 2005

This Microwave World "Red States"

Keeping up with the Austin music scene can be a simultaneously exciting and frustrating task. There are frequent infusions of new blood; bands come, go and splinter off into new permutations on a monthly basis. Of course, this occasionally means that a potentially great band will dissolve just when they seem to be getting started. This Microwave World serves as a perfect example. After their second EP, the band broke out of the “electro-clash” ghetto by trading in their drum machine for a real drummer. It was the best thing that ever could’ve happened to them. Their subsequent EP Love Your Zine Let’s Go to Bed found them carving their own niche in the increasingly crowded world of dance-punk, and their live shows grew ever more intense. Red States, their long-awaited debut album, was supposed to capitalize on this increasing momentum by setting the local music scene ablaze. Unfortunately, the band decided to break up mere weeks before its official release.

Like front man Sean O’Neal other (and equally beloved) band the Arm,
This Microwave World’s sound can be broken down to a few basic elements: high-pitched organs, vigorously strummed guitars, hard metronomic drumming, tuneful bass lines and sneered vocals. Unlike the Arm, TMW place a much greater emphasis on melody, which means little more than that the vocals are sung instead of shouted. You won’t confuse this band with the New Pornographers any time soon; the only real harmonies on this record come when Spoon front man Britt Daniel contributes background vocals to “The Party Line.” The band has an unwavering dedication to its sound, which can make Red States a bit of a tough slog despite its brief duration. Each of its 10 songs would sound great on a mix tape, but when placed next to each other on an album the differences between them become increasingly difficult to spot.

There are three songs on Red States, though, that achieve near-classic status. Second track “You Are a Riot” finds Sean O’Neal wailing in the upper range of his voice, something he doesn’t do very often, and his siren-like vocal delivery makes the music sound positively apocalyptic. “She’s Insecure” is one of the few songs that coalesce around an actual hook, and has a tick-tock drum part recorded so loudly that the snare drums sound like gunshots. Album closer “The Hours” is the album’s slowest song (which isn’t saying much). The interplay between O’Neal’s guitar and Evan Lawrence’s organ is especially fine, and the lyrics express a growing apathy toward the local scene: “We play music we don’t like anymore/You’re in places that you’ve been in before/I swear to God I can’t do this again.”

If the lyrics of “The Hours” reflect the band’s true feelings, then it might be for the best that This Microwave World is no more. The rest of us, though, have been robbed of a chance to see yet another promising Austin band slowly inch itself toward greatness. At least I have these 10 songs to remember them by. I can put them on random mix CDs to mail to out-of-towners, in an effort to convince them to move here on the premise that if they don’t, they’ll miss out on bands like this.

--Sean Padilla

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