Apathy: a lethal killer if there ever was one. It ruins kids in school, numbs those in the heartless American workforce, and, as far as bands go, destroys them. So when Milwaukee pop-punk outfit Chinese Telephones spoke of finishing their full-length album in November 2006, yet failed to produce any actual evidence of said record one year later, I got scared. But, no need to worry: The fruits of their labor finally rear its ugly head in this storied band's self-titled debut full-length.
Chinese Telephones is as much a declaratory statement about the current state of the band as an unheralded, innocent release by some virgin band. Chinese Telephones first made noise back in 2003 with their first couple tours. From there, lineup changes and break-ups alike, the band continued, releasing a few 7" records and a split. While only met with modest approval, the relationship formed with Jeff Burke of Potential Johns / Marked Men fame helped garner more attention for the still young, ambitious band.
After being guided under the wing of Burke and Mark Ryan in recording their self-titled debut, Chinese Telephones present a band that is done with the Screeching Weasel homage and ready to brave a tried and true genre with a refreshing yet classic idea of what pop-punk should sound like.
Right from the beginning, the Telephones don't waste time, explaining through their blasting guitars and alternating, somewhat rushed vocals of “I Can’t Be Right” exactly what their intentions are. They continue from there with a ferocity and unrelenting character that is present throughout the entire album. That isn’t to say the record is unapproachable, but rather that it never slows down -- it never lets the listener even dare think about turning it off.
Justin finally comes into his own on this record, delivering vocals on the tip of stress through what seems to be a less-than-suitable recording device, a touch I’m sure Burke takes some responsibility for. But the slightly filtered-like vocals combined with bassist Andy Junk’s backup vocals, with help from Burke along the way, create a perfect haven for honest lo-fi vocals in an increasingly more contrived lo-fi community.
The Telephones continue to harness their crunchy lead-driven guitar sound with Daniel James at the helm. They have never been partial to typical short pop-punk leads, but Chinese Telephones addresses the concern and solidifies the band's position on the matter. Tracks such as “Tell Me Tell Me” with its mood-creating lead set the tone and drives the entire song. Others, like “It’s Starting Again,” show exactly what Chinese Telephones are capable of doing with their interpretation of what four-piece pop-punk should be.
Even though Chinese Telephones are not new to the game, this is their most determined effort to date, and unfortunately succumbs to some of the most rudimentary pitfalls releases of this scale fall to. Though they were under the guidance of Burke, the mixing could have been better, accentuating some of Chinese Telephones' stronger components, such as James’ leads. Tracks like “This Time Next Year,” now seeing its second reincarnation (“I Think I Can Breathe Now” is on its third), hark back to the previous recording where James’ lead gets justice. Also, maybe it’s me, but “Crying in the Chapel” is better suited on the next Marked Men record than a Chinese Telephones album. Maybe it was Burke’s influence in the studio; maybe it was because he wrote it, I don’t know… Either way, while one of the standout tracks, I find it a bit discomforting that they would have included it on the record.
Chinese Telephones have long been riding under the radar, disguised as just another Screeching Weasel-indebted pop-punk band. But, they finally take a stand and show a crowded scene exactly what they’re made of. And they chose the perfect time to do just that.