February 02, 2002

Scarboro Aquarium Club "Poisoned"

I'm going to be honest with you, dear readers. Poisoned, the debut album by Canada's Scarboro Aquarium Club, is a most befuddling record. I've been frustrated about what I should say about it--not because it is bad, but because it's not quite as good as it really is, and how it should be. It's even more frustrating when the problems aren't with the music, but with everything BUT the music.

Scarboro Aquarium Club is one man, Corey W. Schmidt, and I think I'll start with this point. Poisoned suffers the fatal flaw that often comes with one-man projects, (witness Heaven's Gate, Apocalypse Now, Titanic, Stephen King, or Orange Cake Mix) and that's the inability to edit down the final project. In the mind of the one-man artist, every statement, song, scene, or chapter is "special," and objectivity quickly flies out the window. I would imagine that Schmidt thinks all of his songs are great and special, and if I were him, I'd feel the same way. Only problem, though, is that several songs go on for way too long, such as "Midnight At The Aquarium." It would have been a great minute-long piece, or a variation of a theme scattered throughout the album. Instead, it just extends a very basic them out for about a minute and a half longer than is really needed. It doesn't make Poisoned a better album at that length. Speaking of length, sixteen songs over sixty-seven minutes is just too long for a debut album. Nobody strikes gold with every dig, no matter how talented they are. When you stretch yourself thin, you run the risk of making your best moments weaker, making your quality work seem lesser than it actually is. "Dumbing down," if you will. Seven or eight gems hidden between eight or nine lesser tracks--what's going to be the final outcome?

The problem I have with the album, however, should not reflect on the actual music. His songwriting skills and compositions? I can't fault him one bit. Schmidt's excellent. He's got a lot of fresh, interesting pop ideas, even if they do get lost in the sheer massive bounty that Poisoned has to offer. He's making lush lounge music ("FuturePop"), new wave ("I Can Feel Angels") with a hint of sexytronica ("Perfect Distraction") as well as twee pop ("Sleeping Sound"). All of the songs resonate with a Jim Rao-meets-Stephin Merritt vibe, with a hint (and only a hint, mind you) of Neil Hannon's Divine Comedy thing. He's doing SO MUCH, going through so many styles, that I just don't feel like he's found one style that fits him well. Other artists can do this kind of stylistic shuffle, and others can't. Unfortunately, Poisoned suffers from an overabundance of styles. What makes this frustrating, though, is that Schmidt excells at all of these styles equally well--they just don't work thrown together!

Perhaps this, too, is something that Schmidt will work on. Poisoned is a but debut, and methinks Schmidt hasn't fully found his own distinctive voice. Odd, too, because every style on here COULD be his own distinctive voice. Individually, all of the songs on Poisoned are excellent. Together, though, it's just a bit too much to take, and it's easy to be overwhelmed. Here's hoping that he a., finds a style that fits him perfectly, or b., continues to dabble with many styles at once, but is more selective in sequencing. He's doing everything well, but sells himself short and spreads himself WAY too thin on Poisoned. Personally, I'm eagerly awaiting his next record, because I'm sure it will be a lot more focused.

--Joseph Kyle

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