Every year, there’s an ample amount of candidates for the “album that should have been an EP” award.
You know the type: an 11 or 12-song album that has some great tracks, but overall, feels a little bit too long. The Trembling Turncoats’ Isotopes for Lonely Hearts is one such album. It takes four or five songs for the album to really catch its stride, and by that time, you’re just wishing it was a six-song EP in the first place.
The first half of the album is largely forgettable -- the unfortunate product of a band bumbling through ideas that simply don’t work. “Xavier Foxcraft,” a ho-hum three-minute effort, exemplifies the problems of the first six songs. The structure is such that no matter the inflection of singer Brett Warwick or the rhythm section provided by Nathan Clendenen, there’s little continuity. A jaunty chorus comes and goes, but it’s more of an annoyance than an asset for the four-piece.
“Birdman of America” continues the downward trend. The scratchy vocals sound like they were done on a four-track recorder and the tepid, nonsensical lyrics offer no respite. It’s a filler song in the album’s third slot, and the next couple tracks, though marginally better, are still not worth a listen.
It’s not until the title track, “Isotopes for Lonely Hearts,” that the band puts its best foot forward. The delicate acoustic strumming actually complements Warwick’s vocals -- which are fare more earnest than what had appeared on the previous seven songs -- and the result is a track that’s genuinely engaging in every possible aspect. “Complications” continues the newfound momentum with some terrific guitar work that alternates between a driving distortion and a slow, deliberate melody that simultaneously contrasts and molds with the song’s approach.
It’s too bad it took so long for the Turncoats to find their sound, but they close strongly with “Bright Idea,” a six-minute, acoustically-driven track with a lot of natural charm. It’s the subtle things that the Turncoats do well on this track -- like Warwick’s vocal cadences -- that show what the full album could have sounded like.
There’s potential to be found with the Trembling Turncoats, I’ve no doubt about that. But in the meantime, when they’re trying to hone it, it’s probably best for everyone’s sake that they air on the side of brevity.