Amusement Parks on Fire Road Eyes

[Filter US; 2010]

Styles: shoegaze, nu-gaze, post punk
Others: The Daysleepers, Film School, Silversun Pickups

In evolutionary biology, a new species is produced when an animal population becomes so isolated it can no longer reproduce with its own kind. In music, the taxonomy is largely descriptive — music is part of a genre if it exhibits the characteristics of that genre. So it’s difficult to take lead singer Michael Feerick seriously when he coins a new term, “stargaze,” to describe his music. Not just because shoegaze has long been peppered with cosmological ideas, but because on Road Eyes, Amusement Parks on Fire walks too much like the same old duck to deserve separate taxonomy.

In contrast to their first two albums, production duties have been shifted outside the band to Michael Patterson, producer of Beck’s Midnight Vultures, and Nic Jodoin of The Morlocks. The hired guns have ensured that the song lengths are shorter and the songs themselves are more direct than previous efforts. “Water from the Sun” is one of the better moments, largely because its slower 3/4 tempo gives the song some breathing space. All cylinders are firing, with ethereal choirs joining chunky riffs before obligatorily dissolving into two minutes of nicely-textured noise. There’s much to like here if you’re not finished kicking at that particular open door.

But while there are excellent moments on Road Eyes, you’ll often find them pushed to the margins. “Wave of the Future” begins with a massive, steadily-pulsing texture for roughly the first 20 seconds before dropping the beat to reveal a much less worthwhile song. On “Inside Out,” a syncopated guitar line collides with a chiming piano, obscuring the beat to charming effect. But again, bombast prevails over invention, and the song struggles to escape from under volleys of tom rolls and mammoth guitar chords.

There’s a funny tension in all of these nu-gaze bands that isn’t tough to hear, now that the tempos have been sped up and the vocals pushed forward. Buying an album like Loveless or Souvlaki was a commitment to lovingly peel back layers of distortion, drums, and reverb, and if we didn’t like what we found, then at least we got some mystery out of it. Having utterly hackneyed lines like “I’ve been working out in the blazing sun/ America’s waiting, I’ve gotta go.” on “Echo Park // Infinite Delay” staring you in the face takes away a lot of the adventure. Pile on the puzzling reference of the album title and you have about 48 minutes of music that so lacks focus that it’s difficult to appreciate it as anything other than pastiche.

Road Eyes postures at the nebulous and infinite — the chorus of the titular first song closes with “anything can happen in your eyes, road eyes.” But that’s also its greatest flaw. Road Eyes is so hard to pin down only because it exists as a constellation of its musical referents.

Links: Amusement Parks on Fire - Filter US

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