Saababanks - Saababanks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Saababanks (2005)

Wooden Man

Puzzles can be one of the most frustrating activities that a person could possibly do. Have you ever been working on a puzzle, and you just hit a brick wall? You know that once you finish this thing, it's going to be as amazing as it is intricate, but you can't quite seem to get a handle on it. That's not really a way that I've ever looked at an album before, but Indiana's Saababanks change all that with their self-titled effort.

Intricate, focused, and intense. Those are the three words that provide this album's fuel. Boasting former members of Brazil and the Ottoman Society, this album sounds much more likely to fit in the mid-90's Dischord catalog than either of the bands whose ashes they came from. Don't misunderstand; this isn't incredibly technical, the members of this band are not wizards on their instruments, but the way in which everything forms together shows they are in fact a band with a solid technical basis.

I realize this is sounding a bit abstract, but this band has a pretty difficult sound to pin down. I'm sure comparisons can be made to Fugazi, or a slower Drive Like Jehu, but too many elements of the music here are all the band's own. For one, the bass in these songs is heavy. More times than not, the bass is more apparent than the guitar at its loudest moment. It's not just there to give these songs an extra push; many times, it's the entire push, and it really gives the arrangements power. Dynamic shifts between almost jazzy bridges and high-strung, crunchy verses show a band on the brink, itching to explode, but it never quite comes to that point.

Bassist Michael Lewellen and guitarist Eric Johnson share vocal duties on the album, but their voices are virtually indistinguishable from each other. "Slowcoach" plods along with a very low tuned, droning bass clearing the way through the reverb and straining of Lewellen and Johnson's vocals. As solid a groove as there is presented here, the song also shines a light on the problem some of these songs have, which is that they approach them the same way I look at a puzzle. The first thing to be done is get all of the edge pieces, and build the entire outside structure. Then you put all of the like pieces in a pile, and attack section by section. Where Saababanks falters is that the pieces don't all get put into their respective piles, and it makes the album lose steam. Every element is there waiting to be added to the puzzle, and at various spots the result is brilliant, but pieces are missing. One of those flashes of brilliance is named "Last Breath," and it shows the band at their most cohesive, but also their most desperate, and the contrast does great things for them, but where is this in the beginning of the album?

This shows a wealth of potential. Saababanks has a terrific and unique feel and are sound musicians; the area that needs work is in overall album construction. Individually, these songs stand fine on their own, but when assembled like this things tend to drone and the puzzle doesn't ever actually see the finished product. They've got the outside ring constructed, and you can see the picture coming together, but this band is going to require some patience before their full potential is realized.