(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Recording review - Peace, In Love (2013)

Remember early '90s Brit-pop? You will.

Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Peace's Brit-pop influences may not quite reach such colossal heights, but the band certainly takes the boost and enjoys the view. The British music press has hyped the band as the Second Coming, but cynics could easily interpret them as a rehash of the past. Indeed, song by song on In Love, it's easy to pick out inspirations and appropriated parts that read like a recap of popular British bands dating back to the early 90s: Blur, The Stone Roses, The Cure, and Oasis, to name just a few. Jim Albiss, who produced The Arctic Monkey's stunning debut, also managed to infuse a fair amount of that album into this project. On paper, this makes In Love a sort of Frankenstein's Monster amalgam of scavenged parts, but, surprisingly, Peace lives up to their reputation and overcomes knee-jerk dismissal. It helps that their playing is solid and they fully commit to the material, but it's the strong pacing between the tracks that largely distracts listeners from picking the songs apart.

A particularly good example is the flow between "Lovesick" and "Float Forever". The cheery bounce of "Lovesick" essentially reworks The Cure's "Friday I'm In Love" with manic energy:
Stay awake or go to sleep
Trust me, Baby, I'm a creep
And I'm lovesick with you
It makes me so happy, my mascara runs just a little. But just as the emo pop becomes slightly cloying, the song throws in the towel and the reflective pop of "Float Forever" provides a palate cleansing antidote. The sparse arrangement at the opening creates a late night, confessional feel. It's every bit as false as "Lovesick", with vaguely philosophical lyrics, but the balance is sweet. The band's metaphors are a bit strained, but catchy enough to work:
Hold on to your headlight
They hold your skin to your bones
Fold in fear in the white lines
You know you float forever
You know we'll float forever in the tide
The song gradually builds into a rousing affirmation, before subsiding to reprise the first verse with a wistful feel. Then, rather than let the energy drag, they lay down a set of upbeat, indie funk tracks, starting with "Wraith".

The contrast between In Love and their live show is stark. I saw Peace last month with Team Spirit in Denver (review). In preparation, I listened to several of their tunes beforehand to get a sense of their sound. The gulf between the funky "Wraith" and their spacy cover of Binary Finary's "1998" (from their 2012 Delicious EP) made it hard to pigeonhole them and their setlist delivered on that eclecticism. While their performance was raucous and intense, the studio gives them the bandwidth to develop some more nuanced arrangements.

One of my favorites is "Follow Baby", which kicks off with a discordant psychedelic guitar riff and then retreats to the fringes with a halo of feedback to give Harry Koisser's diffident voice some room. Call it Brit-grunge, but subtle details hide in the shadows of the verses: wah wah chuck-a-chuck rhythms, tremolo arpeggios, and keyboard-like chimes. Later, on the Blur-flavored "Waste of Paint", Koisser and fellow guitarist Douglas Castle each take their own approach to rhythm and melody. The two guitar tracks sound completely independent, but their funk strums interlock before splitting apart into nicely contrasting fill lines.

All in all, I like In Love, but I can't quite say I love it. It succeeds as a well-crafted pop album, but after a few times through I find myself wanting a stronger personality to come through. In that way, I'm not sure they measure up to their Brit-pop idols. Hearing them channel Oasis channeling the Beatles doesn't really satisfy. Despite that, I'm not ready to give up on Peace. Their enthusiasm on "1998" suggests that they could still find a stronger voice of their own.

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