90 Day Men To Everybody

[Southern; 2002]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: indie rock, math rock, prog
Others: Shipping News, Slint, Unwound, Dianogah

There are performances, and there are recordings. One of the most disappointing revelations about a band is the difference between the two. Take 90 Day Men, for example. These four gentleman put on a damn fine rock show. Each member has a distinct performing style that translates beautifully into their overall aesthetic; the music is replete with the sort of energy usually reserved for power plants. However, their recordings do not translate quite as well.

The band's debut album, (It (Is) It) Critical Band (2000), was a quiet success. Blending math rock (algebra-level) with inventive singing, the album proved listenable, yet remained a few degrees left of the norm, an album spewing personality all over. Nearly two years later and we have To Everybody. Although the album definitely has its share of personality, I can't help but feel disappointed-- not in the fact that their music changed substantially since their debut album, but because they could have done so much more with the music. Sure, live, the music works swell, as the band members puts every part of their bodies into the groove of the music, but on recording, it comes off as lackluster and a bit tame.

Whereas (It (Is) It) Critical Band was spastic in a structured sort of way, To Everybody sees the band extending their songs almost to the point of achieving "jam band" status, which is why the music doesn't translate well on record. Make no mistake, the band sure can write a good riff, and as the adage goes: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But just like any man-made tool, depreciation comes into play, and that engenders boredom. Unfortunately, this is often the case with 90 Day Men. There's no denying the killer riffage and bombastic instrumentation, but take your favorite riff and extended it over five minutes and you're catching on to 90 Day Men's primary hindrance.

But when you get down to it, it's the songwriting that really matters. "I've Got Designs on You" begins the album with one of the grooviest rock progressions written this millennium-- in 6/4 time, mind you. Lowe barfs an off-kilter vocal melody, straining every note as the robotic drums lull you to close your eyes and sway your head back and forth. Soon Lowe's bass coupled with Case's half-whisper half-bellow vocal style follows in counterpoint fashion. The song is a prime example of the entire album, so I'll skip the song-by-song bullshit.

Other than the groovy math rhythms and multi-vocalists, what sets 90 Day Men far from its brethrens is keyboardist/pianist Lansangan. Lansangan's blues/jazz chops construct a wider door to fit all the elements into, causing the music to sound almost improvisational amidst the tight instrumentation. Although the piano fleshes out the music and imbues much needed breathing room, it's not used very tastefully, rendering the album too busy, at times.

So, while the band may not be at their best on record, they are still a band that kick ass live. In the vein of a Wesley Willis album, think of To Everybody as a supplement to 90 Day Men's live show. Though it's not indicative of the band's true energy, it's a nice blueprint of the structures that will fully reveal themselves in front of an audience. Scream Dracula, Scream!

1. I've Got Designs on You
2. Last Night, A DJ Saved My Life
3. Saint Theresa in Ecstacy
4. We Blame Chicago
5. Alligator
6. A National Car Crash