Settlefish - Dance a While, Upset (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Dance a While, Upset (2003)

Deep Elm

Back in March, I attended Deep Elm's Too Young To Die Tour. The label made it a family affair, with 5 of their bands making the cross country trek. One of their newest signings, Italy's Settlefish, was a part of the tour. Going into the venue, I had no knowledge of the band whatsoever, as their album had not been released at the time. Their live set was one of confusion for me: they played roughly 6 or 7 songs, the first 3 or 4 of which I completely hated. The band's sound was one of disjointed guitar and drums mixed with nonsensical lyrics - a sort of bad, post-rock version of American Football. Nothing jived at all. Then something changed. The last three songs the group played completely redeemed themselves to me, and rocked me senseless. The final track of the night was a simplistic jam with a heavily repeated bassline and thumping drums mixed with effects-heavy guitar and fiercely spat vocals. Very few times has a band turned me off so early on and yet made a comeback only thirty minutes later. Settlefish was the ultimate dark horse, and I looked forward to hearing their debut album.

A month and a half later, I now hold "Dance a While, Upset" in my hands, and I am just as puzzled. That last song from their live show is called "Breeze," I leanred, and it is the first track on this album. It sounds just as good recorded as it did live, and it even contains the trumpet flourishes that one of the guys from Desert City Soundtrack did during their set. But here's where the confusion set in - this was obviously the band's "signature" song - why make it the opening track? Was there any way they could top it with the next 9?

Well, no. But a couple of the songs come mighty close. Second track "Blindfold The Leaves" is an uptempo rocker with neat hamonic basslines and a guitar part that sounds like the strings are just ready to burst at any minute. So far, Settlefish is 2-for-2.

"On Symmetry Pebbles" showcases the band's softer side, but still delivers the emotional crescendos Deep Elm bands are known for [similar to the Appleseed Cast's first album]. The group does an admirable job for the next handful of tracks, but ideas tend to recycle themselves more than once, making the band sound more like an At The Drive-In ripoff than anything else.

Until the last song, that is.

"Northern Town" is a smoldering, 10 minute long epic that reminds me of Breaking Pangaea's "Turning," in that both, while being 10 minutes long, keep your attention the whole time. Settlefish packs this song full of everything they have, and it shows. Many moments bring to mind images of Fugazi, with their arpeggiated guitar noodling. It's a hell of a way to end the album.

All in all, this is a really good album from this Italian five-piece, and it's even more impressive when you realize it's their debut album. Potential is scattered rather frequently throughout this disc, only making me crave their return to the States more. There's a lot of good ideas here, and if you give them a chance, Settlefish might just be your dark horse, too.

On Symmetry Pebbles [clip]
Scream At Horizons [clip]
Artificial Synapse [clip]