Weatherbox got by perfectly on their nearly incredible EP, The Clearing, with a surefire mix of the quirky rock hooks of Criteria and Say Anything. While some Gatsbys American Dream nodding guitar work is seemingly the only aspect added to their musical arsenal here, it's not quite the reason that Weatherbox's finely solid debut full-length is otherwise just a tad disappointing
Firstly, American Art recycles three songs off The Clearing, and few on the album seem as accomplished as anything off the EP, really (various old demos also reappear here). Granted, "Armed to the Teeth" is one of the band's strongest efforts yet; Brian Warren intensely pleads in the chorus and makes it difficult for any listener to refrain from singing right along with him. You might think Criteria's Stephen Pedersen even makes a cameo in "Wolftank, Doff Thy Name," but even those moments of plagiarizing are enjoyable enough to overlook. But if one is looking for the dynamic of "The Thinnest of Maps" or the bare emotion of "Cowboy Mountain" (although the similarly acoustic "Untitled" comes fairly close until it ends oddly abruptly) to be matched even anywhere here, it's a bit of a wild goose chase.
American Art also tops out at exactly 50 minutes, and in the hands of any other band would be entirely too large of a time budget to keep consistently interesting. Fortunately for Weatherbox, they're a talented, catchy, and compelling band, so they keep it enthralling for the most part -- still, one can't help but realize that if the three songs from The Clearing that are slightly re-recorded here were taken out, American Art would round out at 10 tracks and a shade under 40 minutes -- pretty much a perfect length as far as this style is concerned. Sure, if American Art was ever pressed onto vinyl, "Snakes, Our Ground" would make a perfect opener to the flipside, but still...it already does that on The Clearing.
Faults aside, there's plenty to like about American Art. None of the songs are particularly boring, and the aforementioned Gatsbys influence makes for a variety of creative, bouncy, and twisted guitar riffs. The band's heavy hip-hop tastes play a far smarter role here than on the throwaway 4 Songs EP, too: Drummer Justin Greene constantly plays around with his kit with hip-hop inklings, and even in the appropriately titled "Drop the Mike" the audio drops low for a second for Warren to spit some -- somehow, not only does it work, but the band is amusingly self-effacing about it ("like why am I rapping? Like, do we have no ideas left?"). "The Dreams" is one of the album's better tracks too, a swiftly moving and superb narrative that pulls off a great time change towards its finish. Additionally, there seems to be some defiant religious critique in impressive, time signature-tripping closer "Trippin' the Life Fantastic"; maybe it's just me reading too far into stoner rambling, but "this god of your holy books -- I do not agree with him / I will not be one more servant / I will not bow to anything" seems to show off just one of many honest thoughts Warren needs to get off his mind.
While it should again be stressed that the majority of American Art's standout moments can already be found on its preceding release, Weatherbox has once again woven their quirky sense of humor well with their platter of impressive hooks and riffs. If America's best hybrid of Criteria and Say Anything we're likely to ever hear are given sufficient time, one can be sure there's a masterpiece in their future; for now, American Art is still worth an intent walk down the gallery.