Electric Soft Parade No Need To Be Down-Hearted

[Better Looking; 2007]

Styles: soft and tender rocking and stomping, Brit-bop
Others: The Divine Comedy, Maritime, The Dears, Blur

With No Need To Be Down-Hearted, the Brothers White have crafted a finely tuned and hammered-down selection of pitch-perfect studio cuts, poised to garner at least an honorable mention at any town’s metalwork fair. Tom, Alex, and their fellow bandmates took their wares on a train from Brighton down into my CD player, and upon arriving decide they own the place with this follow-up to 2005’s The Human Body EP. “No, no,” I scold them, “Boys, behave. I have to evaluate you and that is what I’ll do.” They start to pout but I’m looking away, trying not to give them the upper hand. So let’s get this underway before they flip on the waterworks:

“Life In The Backseat” is a formidable treat of brashly humming synths and sharp, chugging guitars set to a smart and concisely orchestrated tune. Vocally recalling, at times, the best of Neil Hannon, it’s a winner and a checkpoint of what the band will aim to accomplish over and over again in assorted flavors. “If That’s The Case, Then I Don’t Know” employs a half a minute’s worth of urgent guitar strums, drum slaps, and bleeping digital tones before breaking out into the crunchiest guitar licks the band’s yet produced, bizarrely yet comfortably reminiscent of Daft Punk’s few forays into guitar squeals. The song is brutal, in a good way, and while not as rewarding as “Life In The Backseat,” it works as a nice wake-up call from the track that precedes it. Besides being the best way to greet the day, “Woken By A Kiss” is stuck somewhere between a really swell dream about starry-eyed love cats and a slow driving rock ’n’ roll whirlpool. The song continually builds and recedes back to the depths of the unconscious whence it came, until it reaches the gloomy end cap of a refrain, “Whatever happened to the person in you/ I thought I knew?

As The Electric Soft Parade (and even as side-project Brakes with ex-British Sea Power keyboard captain Eamon Hamilton), brothers Alex and Tom White, along with their cohorts, wear their influences too blatantly on their sleeves, and a pair of cufflinks wouldn’t hurt to hold some of it in. It’s not to say they don’t do anything nice with the sounds they co-opt; “Misunderstanding,” “Cold World / Starry Night #1,” and “Have You Ever Felt Like It's Too Late” are three pleasantly bouncy and understatedly melancholy cuts that stand well enough on their own. But one can’t help pondering how they’d all melt fairly seamlessly into each other if placed in a row of trifecta proportions. And when you realize it wouldn’t exactly be easy to figure out where one ended and another began, you have either the work of extremely competent and intentional songwriters, or a couple of guys not flexing their talents far enough in new directions.

It’s a fine, if unremarkable, contribution to a stormy and constant weather system of more solid and varied releases. Three of the four bands listed under the “Others” tab up above have issued albums in the past year that surpass ESP’s entry into similar sonic territories. The soft-guy medium-rock mantle isn’t one with a lot of competition, and for that reason the band stakes out its own small niche, but it’s not of a broad enough appeal to take them very far. It’s hard to imagine a few stellar tracks and a well-flowing album being taken as a negative, but the result just isn't enough to make these lads stick out like the sore thumbs we wish we smashed.

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