Point Reyes Golden

[Big School; 2012]

Styles: academic love songs to god, free-/art-rock
Others: Au, Art Bears, Dirty Projectors, Gong

Everything about Point Reyes makes sense: flawless bios, boundless talent for instrumentation and vocal composition, diverse influences (Steve Reich among them), the ol’ “OMG” from Dirty Projectors members, instances of sheer ecstasy reviewers live for. So why does it all feel so undeveloped and empty at times, as if in following their stream-of-consciousness spirit animals, they neglected to sit down and figure out what really works and what doesn’t? If you rescued the magical moments of Golden and expanded upon them, you’d have an easy 4-star, spank-bank material for the post-Sun Ra/-Art Bears set that also may or may not brush up against brethren-in-arms like Au, Curtains, Bodies Of Water, Degenerate Art Ensemble, and even Department Of Eagles. What we have instead is a middling work from folks who know better.

Among the Golden highlights spoken of above is “vrag.dk,” a quiet, thoughtful guitar-picker that goes a long way toward erasing any problems one might have with the record. Methinks it’s no coincidence that it’s also a simpler tune that plays to Point Reyes’ strengths (tight syncopation, wordless chants, cello-bashing, spare percussion, phone-home xylophone, expressive-yet-occasionally-abusive guitar). These are the tunes serious artists often write when not thinking too hard about things, and most of us can only dream of whipping up a tune like this from scratch. “Hair White” is another stunning presentation — Sufjan Stevens-esque, layered vocals complemented by shuffling brush-drums, acoustic riffs, and sharp bells that may or may not have been necessary. Don’t even get me started on “Stemmer.” It’s fantastic.

So what’s the problem? Well, at many intervals, I’m hearing dazzling interplay, but that’s about it, and with lyrics that rarely match the melodic skills of the participants. Not to mention the occasional randomness of it all. You’ll hear rolling tom-tom runs that are friendly enough on their own, yet when thrown in the middle of “Unlake,” they don’t make sense; elsewhere, the music will halt like a group of soldiers so the singers can belt out a halting treatise or two. I also carry a hatred for inferior rapping. One of the first “really?” moments occurs when one of the singers starts spittin’ verse about buying avocado and ciabatta bread or some shit, and it reminds me of a review I read in a magazine wherein a dude actually ordered a sandwich and asked for extra tomato (because it was a vegan sandwich, natch). within the review. Point Reyes do it within a song… why? It didn’t work for me in print and fails utterly in the studio as well. I very rarely feel anger when listening to music, even metal, but when I listen to this track, I can barely contain the rage.

This is one of those reviews that causes my reviewing “career” to flash before my eyes, because I’m SO FUCKING SICK of pointing out, when I feel I have to (I don’t write nearly as many two-star reviews as I used to), that certain audio offerings from the indie world kinda suck. What can I do? I’ll repeat a phrase I used to hate but that has come to hold some water with me: It is what it is. So there you go.

Links: Big School

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