What’s a cake if it has shitty icing? I mean, sure, everybody loves digging into a piece of marble cake, but if there was to be strawberry icing on that, no sir.
The same, in a broader sense, can be said of music. Only in this instance, the singer of a given band is the icing. He’s what you see first, what appeals to you first, and what can ultimately make or break that proverbial piece of cake we call music. Convoluted analogies aside, it comes down to this -- bad singer, bad band.
Free Diamonds, please, take notice. One of Deep Elm’s newest additions, the dance-punkish act provides a dizzying array of instrumentation, from slinky jazz basslines, to some very calculated drumming, the whole instrumental package giving off a real strong aura, one of swagger and confidence. The vocals though, the vocals are the killer. The one element that drags all the others down not only to earth but 5 levels below it. The whole little-boy-on-a-helium-high sound that singer Scott Anderson uses is entirely detrimental to what, with any other kind of singer, could be a terrific record.
So there’s the negative. A very, very large one albeit, but a silver lining does exist in the instrumentation that I previously referred to. Anderson’s vocals luckily do not get in the way of him also playing some damn fine guitar, nor does it prevent Paul Cosgove from offering some exemplary bass work. “Lovers Die Young” leads in with some quick bass lines, until Anderson’s vocals enter the fray and make the bass very difficult to follow. But if you’re able, you’ll be rewarded, as the progressions pick up speed with each passing moment, making for a terrific foot-tapping rhythm, also accented by Anderson’s riffing and David Norton’s drumming. It all comes back to those vocals, unfortunately, as towards the end of the song, some handclaps kick in, the instrumentation speeds up, and the singing gets even more shrill than before.
“The Day We Conquered” follows that up with some real instrumental flavor, opting for a sound not out of place on a reggae record. A bit faster, but a lot of the same general vibes. That same feeling is brought back on other places in the record, including “Cuban Heels, Cuban Deals.” All the guitar tones sound crisp and alive, the drumming is on point, and the base supplies all the groove and rhythm, if only those vocals were toned down even a little bit.
No strawberry icing for me, thanks.