Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Narrator - All That to the Wall

The Narrator
All That To The Wall (Flameshovel, 2007)
Grade: A-

Download: The Narrator - "August 32nd"
Download: The Narrator - "SurfJew"
Download: The Narrator - "Panic at Puppy Beach"

This record scares me. No, not because that The Narrator are a death-metal band (they're obviously not). To be totally truthful, The Narrator owe their sound more than just a little bit to Pavement's charmingly slack ways. Rather, it's the way that The Narrator's latest record (due out this Tuesday on Flameshovel Records) is a frighteningly accurate document of the internal mix of confusion, uncertainty and stagnation known as your mid-20s. I believe Jeff Buckley referred to this period of your life as when you're "too young to hold on, but too old to just break free and run."

You have a stable job and a steady relationship, but you aren't quite ready to settle down and give up your freewheeling college ways just yet. Adulthood is right around the corner, but you're still having a good stroll down the sidewalk of your somewhat reckless youth. You don’t quite feel tied down to anything just yet, but you still have the sense that you need to settle into a routine that will eventually become the rest of your life, It’s a confusing time. By expertly capturing this specific kind of malaise, All That To The Wall serves as the kind of record that may not necessairly change lives, but will certainly make living through them much, much easier, due to its slacker empathy.

Like Oxford Collapse, The Narrator are best thought of as being a kind of indie-rock comfort food. The songs are energetic and passionate to the point where you forget that this is a band who wears its influences almost too proudly on their sleeves. However, the lyrics are sly, self-deprecating and, most importantly of all, have the ring of truth to them.

What makes the songs on All That To The Wall really interesting is that they are simultaneously driven and laid-back. This is due to the fact that while the guitars are fuzzy, jangly and explosive, but singer Sam Axelrod has a voice that serves as the intersection between Stephen Malkmus and Gordan Gano.

As you can imagine, Axelrod has a bit of a sarcastic streak, and it serves him well on on songs like "Surf's Up" where the off-kilter hooks serve to buoy sly lyrics like "Yeah, I Miss The City/I Miss Every City," as the rhythm section thrashes around like a deliriously happy toddler.

Other lyrical highlights include "My brain's working overtime/but my body's on salary" and "with happiness comes responsibility/I think I'll quite while I'm behind." The music, with distorted electronic drums and pentatonic guitar riffs reminiscent of bands like Modest Mouse, Pavement and Chin Up Chin Up, is an upbeat force to be reckoned with, and always remains catchy and clever. There's some musical stretching as well, with banjo and organ enhancing on "All The Tired Horses."

Listening to The Narrator is like commiserating with a friend about the uncertainties of your life at that moment. You compare notes, you laugh, and you relate. But unlike your real friends, these friends can rock out and you can dance to their thoughts. As you select a soundtrack for your mid-20s malaise, you should put on Narrator's All That To The Wall

(Jonathan Graef)

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