As Tall As Lions You Can’t Take It With You

[East West/Triple Crown; 2009]

Styles: ambient rock, alternative rock
Others: Elbow, Dear and The Headlights

As Tall As Lions has Leprosy. Shrouded in misplaced atmospherics and telephoned vocals, the band seems intent on keeping their listeners at arm’s length. You Can’t Take It With You is vague, cluttered, and often downright boring. The band seems disingenuous, fleeing a monster they can’t quite define and leaving us to take their weak accounts with plenty of salt. While occasionally stumbling onto some attractive guitar tones and reassuring choruses, As Tall As Lions spend 50 minutes saying a whole lot about very little.

Confidence issues have plagued As Tall As Lions since their inception in 2001. Lineup changes, fickle labels, and stress-induced anxiety left the band shaken. But instead of channeling their problems into head-on critiques of a faithless world, they still sound scared to get out of bed. The propulsion of their arena-rock-upon-dub self-titled album is absent. You Can’t Take It With You lacks engagement, soggy and confessional rather than conversational and engrossing.

Inflated opener “Circles” shows virtuosity with fiery drums and cracked-whip guitar, but is curdled by inane lyrics and the convergence of their instruments into an indescript mush. Singer Dan Nigro cries, “I thought I heard you coming up the stairs,” but imagining him wallowing in his room and waiting for company is utterly depressing. “Sixes and Sevens” is a case study in forced rock writing, the result of sitting down with a blank sheet and a blurry head. “Every step we take goes backwards/ Not sure what we’re heading towards” is embarrassingly accurate, as everyone plays their guitars and no one plays a melody.

Glockenspiel and Egyptian synthesizers meander on “You Can’t Take It With You,” reaching for a Zero 7 trance, but a lifeless 9-5 drum pattern and Nigro’s warbling of “I feel it’s much too late” let the song settle for drunken regret. The swooping, full-bodied guitar solo of “Go Easy” and the working-man’s groove of “In Case of Rapture” attain some gravitas, but neither has enough punch to be memorable. “We’s Been Waiting” is the faux blues you get when you only know New Orleans from moldy travel brochures, and “Is This Tomorrow?”’s worn piano rings repetitive like a discarded Kanye hook.

As Tall As Lions consider themselves artists, and so they must be judged by the eight-minute epic stuck in the middle of their album. “Duermete,” Spanish for “Fall Asleep,” is a lover’s last crusade to convince his world-struck baby that “We’ll be alright.” Steel brushes on snare drum and George Gershwin trumpets warn that the hustle-bustle will swallow you up and sap your strength if you’re not careful. For a moment, they are convincing, but a two-minute coda of ghostly echoes and parched atmosphere feels too much like the haze of waking up in someone else’s bed on a gray morning. This loss of focus characterizes You Can’t Take It With You. While As Tall As Lions are affected deeply by the weight of the world, they’re too flustered to make sense of it all.

1. Circles
2. Sixes & Sevens
3. You Can’t Take It With You
4. Go Easy
5. Duermete
6. In Case Of Rapture
7. We’s Been Waitin’
8. Is This Tomorrow?
9. Sleepyhead
10. The Narrows
11. Lost My Mind

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