Car trips can be an amazing thing for an individual. They can be full of truck stops, self searching, and singing along to your favorite album as loud as possible at night with the windows down, because nobody can hear that you actually suck at it. They can also be trips from New York to Florida and back again, with the other five members of your family cramped into a Dodge Caravan for 8 hours a day having nothing else to do but try and spot a license play from each of the 50 states. Come on, you know you've all tried it once. Strange Distress Calls, Tourmaline's No Milk Records rebut, resides in the former of those categories, putting itself out there as an excellent soundtrack to a late night car ride.
Singer Matt Rauch and the choruses that the rest of his band accompany him on are the driving force behind this release, in which melody takes over originality as its main ingredient. This isn't necessarily a fault; stick to what you're good at, right? It is, of course, a limiting factor that can't be changed by only some sporadic piano keystrokes and keyboard accompaniment. "Horoscopes" does show that the inclusion of Corey Zaloom's piano playing, when it's there, can add to the mood and tempo of a given song, but on that note, there aren't enough of those moments on the album to make a dent. The rest of the instrumentation seems to be held in the same regard; it's just "there." Nothing goes so far as at stand out or make an impression in a given song, let alone the album as a whole.
It seems that the song that stands most on its own amongst the others is the one that really draws me to it, as the down-tempo "Gray Skies" is just quiet enough to relax, but powerful enough to not let you write it off. The song does tread into dangerous lyrical territory however, and the speed of it lets each lyric really be heard;
I am angered â??cause you don't care, upset I'm sitting in my world and I feel it coming back / And it's okay, I've walked a thousand miles to see what it's like to feel love / I won't be hurting, I won't belong, I'll just be dying in my dreams tonight.The whimsical, subdued nature of Rauch's words almost trick me into thinking that those lyrics aren't as horrible as they seemed in the liner notes, but further inspection reveals my initial assumptions were correct; the band can't write solid lyrics. Some songs are better than others, but the songs on the worse end of the spectrum are bad enough to really take notice of, just as in "Gray Skies."
If lyrics won't stop you from purchasing an album, than Strange Distress Signals will find a home in a lot of your late night summer drives, while singing where nobody can tell you to shut up for being horrible. There's some real promise here, and some excellent harmonies and choruses that really keep the pace of this record going. While there's a lot to like, there's also a decent amount that could be improved upon before these guys record again. Some tweaks in song structure and lyrical composition, and they're well on their way to having a permanent spot in a lot of car sun visor CD cases.