Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Records In Review: Moving Units--Dangerous Dreams

The sub-heading for this review should be, with thanks to Dr. Nick Riviera, "you've tried the best, now try the rest!" Moving Units are a Californian entry in the new wave revivalist sweepstakes. Dangerous Dreams (2004) is the three-piece's first full-length release, and within its polycarbonate depths can be heard bits and pieces of a number of influences, both contemporary and ancient, which I'll go into as needs be, but I'll just say this one thing now: don't believe anything you read about this record resembling Gang Of Four in any meaningful way.

MU's principal musical mode is a crunchy, new wavey disco a la Franz Ferdinand, albeit lighter on the Brit jack-the-laddism and heavier on the west coast sleaze. Odd, considering that some of the bandmembers apparently came from the hardcore scene. The songs in this style, like the opening track "Emancipation," feature skronking, metallic guitar, fake-slappy octave-intervalled disco bass and loud 'n' messy drumming. The balance between the instruments is actually quite good, even if the band sound isn't particularly well-developed or detailed and the production is kind of in Nowheresville. The vocal production in particular is not good and consists of a thin layer of goop over almost all of the tracks that's guaranteed to get on your nerves double-quick (as will the vocals--more on that later). A few of the other tracks lean more toward electropop "Anyone" or the gloomy doomy sound of Interpol and the like ("Scars"). The lyrics range from not particularly good to godawful. The dance/disco-tinged tracks are of mixed quality, to put it mildly. They all suffer more or less from an approach that's neither subtle enough to be interesting nor over-the-top enough to be fun.

"Emancipation" is an okay beginning to the record. It's like a lighter, upbeat Franz Ferdinand; or, if you like, Hot Hot Heat with a stiffer rhythm section (same general harmonic landscape). "Unpersuaded," with its lounge guitar chords and herky-jerky slightly latinate rhythm, is the best of the songs in this style. The lounge-latin cheeze--maybe they picked it up from here?--is a persistent and persistently aggravating motif, and it doesn't do "Submission" or "Bricks And Mortar" (awful lyrics) any favours. My imagination conjures up conga lines, cruise ships, and paunchy, leering middle-aged crooners with sequinned suits and Brylcreemed hair. "Available" is embarrassing; I could only bring myself to listen to it through twice, the second time being of course "for science." Singer/guitarist Blake Miller's vocal performance, not one of DD's strengths and hampered by an oily, pseudo-Brit inflection, is particularly bad on this one and brings back unfond memories of this.

The remainder of the material's a bit better. My favorite track is "Between Us And Them," which is quick, concise and with one foot in the Interpol camp--picked eighth-note bass melody and gloomy chorus. You can really hear the influence of The Strokes' Julian Casablancas both on this song and on "Birds Of Prey," as Miller shares the former's penchant for stretching lines out and landing after the beat in faux/ironic-crooner style. "Anyone" features beatbox and keyboards, including some sounds that wouldn't be out of place on an early Ultravox/John Foxx album, and has some nice texturing to it. "Scars" is a bit overlong and features a vocal outtro that sounds like the mating call of the Baudet du Poitou (unsuccessful), but is otherwise a reasonable facsimile of the glum and grandiose Interpol/Chameleons/Cure school. "Killer/Lover" is nice and discordant, if a bit wooden on the songwriting front. The scratchy guitar in the finale is very Bloc Party.

In the final result, there's nothing on Dangerous Dreams that I'd consider essential listening, and there's too many distracting and/or taste-challenged elements on the album to make it listenable. Their contemporaries do it better, and more often. Not recommended.

No comments: