As Tall as Lions - Into the Flood (Cover Artwork)

As Tall as Lions

Into the Flood (2007)

Triple Crown / EastWest

Being a pop-rock band with credibility and/or artistic value is a difficult undertaking. The line between the sort of spit-shined radio-ready rock of bands like Daughtry and the much more fulfilling and realistic sound of many indie artists is extremely fine and often easy to miss. Said dilemma leads to bands like As Tall as Lions, a group who seem to have made a career out of this type of musical fence-sitting.

Into the Flood is a five-song EP that doesn't vary much from past As Tall as Lions releases. That is, they are still crafting pop-rock songs wrapped in a warm layer of atmospherics and then showering them with some closed-eyed vocals that move from whispery to grandiose. The problem here is the same issue this band has always faced: Sometimes they cross over into embarrassingly mainstream musical moments. And when I say "mainstream" I don't just mean able to receive radio play, I mean the sort of unthreatening, vapid background sounds you could hear while shopping at Target.

Opener "505" may be Into the Flood's strongest offering. Singer Daniel Nigro's vocals take a faded M. Ward approach while simple acoustic guitar fills the foreground. From there the song shifts into a warm, yet lonesome waltz that seems to reside somewhere between the Album Leaf and the Weakerthans. It's a simple and beautiful song that exhibits As Tall as Lions' strong points: gliding melody, comforting instrumentation, and a sense of atmosphere. You may be able to find these aspects on the EP's remaining tracks, but unfortunately they are surrounded by moments of boring soft rock cliché or emotionless over-produced blandness.

"Into the Flood" may have a crashing and dynamic chorus that hints at a band who has a secret love for rocking out, but the verses play out like an attempt at Coldplay-styled arena rock complete with earnest pleading and delay-soaked guitars. Elsewhere, "Blacked Out" is book-ended by some lush, yet fuzzy psych-rock ambience, but the song itself is merely a plodding and tiresome affair that seems to lack any energy.

As Tall as Lions may not be looking to lay their signatures down on any major label contracts, or pack stadiums, but they do dabble in the sort of traits that have brought other bands those rewards. If Into the Flood is an indicator of anything, it is that As Tall as Lions are still delicately walking down that very fine line between whitewashed mainstream homogeny and rich, compelling compositions. Here's to hoping one day they go for the latter.