Crafting 'respectable pop' means assembling a buffet of bubbling hooks and catchy melodies, a tough pillar to erect and support for today's image conscious rock band. Where is the firing line between weird and innovative? Catchy and pastiche? "Indie" and "poseur?" These blanket terms aren't usually mutually exclusive, either. Half pop-ish, half slowed, and always inflated, As Tall As Lions run a tight gamut on their third LP; a risky attempt. The elite may dismiss them for being too mainstream, and the mainstream may dismiss them as too far fetched for "radio friendly," And where does that leave them? Bouncing from Bloc Party falsetto drum-driven movers to slow-dancing-in-a-jazzy-room ballads, As Tall As Lions are a crock pot of the last decade of indie-to-major successes.
The eccentricities of ATAL are what make them interesting, specifically the pleasantly high-pitched voice of Dan Nigro (singing soprano enough to be close to an apprentice of Cedric Bixler-Zavala of screeching-for-Mars-Volta fame). The intros to many of the songs are awash with sound, infinitely more endearing than slow-starting dreamy tunes like "Sleepyhead." ATAL excel when rhythmically driven, keenly opting to open with the well arranged "Circles," a tune that lives up to it's name with arpeggios and drum patterns. "Go Easy" sounds almost South Carolina jam-band-esque (barring the boys hail from Long Island) which is interesting, because I almost wanted to peg them as the young New York version of Kings Of Leon (who are, in fact, from the South). Good for mainstream success, but perhaps not critical reception. The search for the balance can be daunting.
The thing is, ATAL are far from Fallowil and even worse guitar-toting pop-rockers of our occasional nightmares. The poly rhythmic schizophrenia, especially when ATAL lets loose, can be quite compelling. It's an ambitious angle for a pop song, but ambition is an admirable quality, (despite it's potential pratfalls, e.g. misguided solo projects and experimental nonsense), especially in a band trying to find it's footing in an amalgamation of popular sounds and styles. The bittersweet harmonies of Nigro's wail are particularly notable, like a splash of red paint on a blue canvas; effective, stark, coloring, and bold. When the dizzying part writing spirals around these accents, ATAL really shines. On the next record, let's hope for more. - joe puglisi