Dear Art in Manila,
I had every reason to expect the best from your debut album, Set the Woods on Fire. With former members of Azure Ray, Son, Ambulance, Mayday, and The Anniversary, your pedigree is enviable. So, when I popped the promo CD into my laptop, it was to my great surprise (and disappointment) that I found myself … distinctly unimpressed.
Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some enjoyable moments. “The Abomination” is probably the prettiest song about horrible things happening to people that I’ve heard in a while. The title track is great too — full of rockin’ guitars and throaty vocals. The best songs are the ones where simplicity reigns. “Anything You Love” layers spare lyrics (there’s a nice repeating coda of “we can be saved”) over a haunting guitar line, while the
Cowboy Junkies-esque alt-country lament of the last track, “The Game,” is quietly bittersweet (“these hits have made a bruise/I wear to show the truth/I don’t care if I win or lose”).
And now, the bad news.
While there are no horrible songs on this album (an achievement in itself, I suppose), there are way too many forgettable ones. The stand-out tracks I mentioned above really do, mostly because they’re usually sandwiched between the equivalent of indie elevator music. All the components are there — breathy vocals, quirky lyrics, fuzzy guitars — and yet, they come off soulless and sterile. I guess some people would argue that indie rock’s soul was lost a long time ago, and one more mediocre album won’t make a difference. I am not one of those people. There were moments when I actually wished that there were some really terrible tracks on the album, because at least then, I could be sure that something was going on.
Last but not least, an appeal. If you, as a band (and I mean any band, not just Art in Manila), decide to put a cover song on your album, please at least pretend that you’re trying to do something new. Exhibit A: Track eight, an acoustic version of Les Savy Fav’s “The Sweat Descends,” which replaces the snarling intensity of the original with laid-back harmonies that are, frankly, boring.
But hey, don’t let this get you down. I believe in you, Art in Manila. Let’s hope your next album gives me some return on my faith.
- Claire Orpeza