Saturday, February 26, 2011

Album Review: Christmas Island - Blackout Summer

Christmas Island: Blackout Summer
[In the Red 2009] 


The members of Christmas Island appear to be well into their 20s, but the hallmarks of their debut peg them more in the middle teenage years: messy outbursts, undirected angst, general "why me" confusion over girls and life, and pessimism to boot. Once you've grown through the pubescent years, you probably have less sympathy for the melodrama and self-pity that teens rub in peoples' faces. In music, particularly brands like punk and indie rock that often pedal in teen angst, it takes a lot to make this material compelling and make you care, and the lo-fi garage pop of Blackout Summer misses that mark.

The band's aesthetic does include certain influences that would be lost on the typical teen garage punk band, including Beach Boys-inflected melodies and guitar work that hints at surf rock. The songs of Blackout Summer seem to reach for surf pop hooks and an underlying sense of innocence, but any pop approachability is kept at bay by the bleak lo-fi recording quality that buries the guitar and drums in heavy muck. Whether it's by drums of impending doom ("Pre-Apocalyptic") or horror movie organ ("Egypt"), Christmas Island takes a number of slanted pop tunes and weighs them down with stark production and off-kilter instrumentation.

The effect is less off-putting, though no less unsettling, on the tracks more imitative of straight punk rock, like the cymbal-crashing "I Don't Care" and the start-and-stop of "Anxiety Attack". Besides lo-fi production that purposefully lends Blackout Summer a gristly demeanor, tying the tracks together are the vocals of frontman Brian Island. Delivered with complete articulation and a nasally impersonation of a nerdy teen punk, Island's vocals are simple, blunt, and eventually tiring. While the band's lo-fi aesthetic sounds in part like fellow San Diegan Wavves, Island's vocals are mostly distinguishable above the guitar and drums, creating a less claustrophobic atmosphere than Nathan Williams' relentless fuzz. How much Island's voice, and the band's general sound, is aimed at mimicking (sympathizing with?) garage-playing kids is not clear, but whatever the aim, the album loses traction fast for its lack of maturity.

Island's one-dimensional vocals already denote a simplistic worldview, but the lyrics further stress a grating lack of intelligence. It's easy to point the finger here at "Dinosaurs", which stomps along with lines like "Dinosaurs, I can't believe you ever existed" and "Stegosaurus…Tyrannosaurus REX!" Elsewhere, as on "My Baby", simplicity doesn’t amount to any sort of charm: "My baby, I love you, more than the stars above you. My baby, please hold me, if you don’t I'll die slowly."

For all the aesthetic choices that, at parts of the album, feel like self-sabotage, there are moments where Island's ramshackle moan and instrumentation confused between surf pop and downer punk make for interesting ditties, even if they are just that. The feverish guitar licks of "I Don't Care", the rare (at least musical) uplift of "It's True", and the accessible melody of "Bed Island" are replayable tracks, even if they still subscribe to an aesthetic that gets old fast.

Christmas Island can go ahead and muddy up their pop songs with lo-fi production, gloomy instrumental effects and punk inflections, but ultimately, the band must face up to the question of why anybody should care. And it's hard to invest much into Blackout Summer when it so often hints that it's almost brain-dead.

"Blackout Summer":


1 comment:

  1. This review is so correct. This album is horrible. So grating. Thanks for taking the time nail it.