They Shoot Horses Don't They?Pickup Sticks
  • MONDAY, AUGUST 06, 2007

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The recent release by They Shoot Horses Don’t They, a multi-instrumental and avant-garde group from Vancouver, showcases what’s right and wrong about the experimental side of indie rock. Pickup Sticks is an exercise in making people feel slightly unintelligent if they don’t understand what’s going on. But in reality, not much is.

“This is the last song!” screams lead singer and guitarist Nut Brown on the opening track “One Final Push”. I guess for those that are paying attention to lyrics it sounds like an attempt at being ironic, but the majority of music audiences don’t pay attention to lyrics, so it’s all for naught. This is especially true when the song features circus-style music with random horn bursts and Brown’s whispery talk/scream vocals. The same story continues on “The Guest”, a song with a repetitive and mind-numbing bass drum kick on the downbeat (although points are given for the bass playing that dives in and out of the song). As Pickup Sticks moves along, very few songs offer anything more than their successors do. Summing up the average track, They Shoot Horses Don’t They seem to begin most of their songs with some keyboards, followed by horn punches, bass drum kicks, a noisy chorus, and a weird, unorthodox conclusion (which isn’t so weird and unorthodox when heard so often). Look no further than the bouncy keyboard shrieks of “A Place Called Zo”. Worse yet, Brown comes from the school of indie rockers who have adopted the vocal styling of David Byrne when they want to sound emotional. After a while, it really can start to irritate.

I suppose it’s easy for the casual music listener to get angry at a label like Kill Rock Stars for believing in such pretentious art. But the label has been a godsend for musicians who want to try something different and see what sounds they can make come out of their instruments. I always enjoy hearing what a band can do. But the 40 minutes of Pickup Sticks placed more responsibility on the listener than the average prog-rock album (a genre that I actually like and many indie rockers loathe).It definitely feels longer than 40 minutes. Since this is designed as an album and not a collection of songs, I appreciate it, but the songs blend into each other too much, nothing really stands out, and it begins to sound a bit the same in the end. Being somewhat of a pretentious person (at times), I’ll definitely give it another listen, but if you’re looking for a melody to sing along to…this isn’t the record for you. - Stephon Johnson

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