The Factory Party
After Death There Is Nothing
Been trying to figure out a way to dance around this, but the more I try, the worse it sounds, so I'll just come out with it: I've been sitting for a little while on The Factory Party's latest, After Death There Is Nothing, I'll admit it, partly because, frankly, I really wish I liked it more than I do.
First off, let's back up a year or so. When I initially heard the band, back before their first EP actually came out, I instantly dug their slightly-fuzzy indie-pop sound, with that nicely melodic bass driving things along like it did with long-dead Austinites Silver Scooter. It felt like the music the band was coming up bridged the gap between snotty/jaded Brit-rock and understated, emo-boy indie-pop, and I was pretty excited to see what they came up with.
Flash forward to now, and I'm listening to the band's second EP (missed the first completely, I'm afraid, back in 2008, although most of the FP songs I'd heard before and liked are on it), wondering what the heck happened. Rather than continuing with their Silver Scooter-meets-Interpol amalgam, the part of their sound that I thought was the most promising, they've instead dived headlong into '80s-worshipping, early-period Killers territory. And that can be a dangerous thing; the faux-Brit vocals, the dance-y cymbals, the near-audible disdain, if all of it's not balanced with some serious energy, it runs the risk of falling flat on its face (heck, just ask the Killers themselves).
To their credit, The Factory Party don't fall too far short of the mark, but they do leave me wishing their sound had more of a kick to it, particularly in the rhythm department. The bass I loved so much back when has been relegated (mostly; "Kids and Celebrities" and "Girls Girls" hark back somewhat to earlier days) to backing duties, attempting to anchor the too-far-forward, tinny-sounding drums as they race all over the place. I swear, I've got no special hatred for drummers or anything, but I think the songs would've benefited from pushing the cymbals back and the kick and snare way, way, way forward.
On the positive side, singer/guitarist Charlie pulls off the sardonic sneer better than expected and manages to convey kind of a wounded, bitter vulnerability beneath the jaded crust, especially on tracks like "Girls Girls." And the songs are maddeningly catchy in spite of themselves, particularly "I've Done This Line Before," the aforementioned "Kids and Celebrities" (which incorporates some nice synths that need to appear more often), "Girls Girls" (did I mention the fun chant-along vocals and handclaps?), and "Diana."
The latter, in particular, breaks through my defenses and makes me want to grab hold of After Death with both arms; it channels that necessary energy I talked about and comes off desperate and manic, which is never a bad thing. More of that, more bass, less riding the cymbals, and more volume in general, and The Factory Party could fulfill the promise they've been holding out these last couple of years. After Death There Is Nothing is a step, yes, but hopefully it's not the last.
[The Factory Party is playing 12/18/09 at Super Happy Fun Land, along with Barefoot The Indian, Room 101, Deux Frupis, The Paperwaits, Nosaprise, The Cadences, Oncoming Traffic, Dairy Party, Chase Hamblin, Ivan Espinosa's Band, & The Coalition Band.]
Heave Yer Skeleton
I'm betting the folks in mr. Gnome don't really care too much for boundaries, which goes some way towards explaining the patchwork quilt that is their overall "sound," grafting together heavy, skullcrushing metal to delicate folkiness to freakout-inducing psych-rock to bent hillbilly rock. I was a little taken aback at first with Heave Yer Skeleton, especially given tracks like "Vampires," which is (seemingly) uncharacteristically jaunty and country-sounding, the chirping noises notwithstanding, and "Titor," which is quietly delicate psych-folk. The last time I saw guitarist/vocalist Nicole Barrile and drummer Sam Meister, they most definitely did not sound anywhere near delicate, instead playing things as heavy as humanly possible and making my chest feel like it was about to give way and collapse as I witnessed the spectacle.
Looking backwards at 2008's Deliver This Creature, though, I'm feeling a little dumb for the confusion on my part. Creature itself was a mishmash of styles, heavy and soft, pretty yet still dark, and so Skeleton is following solidly in its footsteps, albeit with maybe a little bit more of a country influence thrown in. The band shifts smoothly from the heaviest guitar lines on here to the most fragile, whispery passages, and they do it so well that, hell, you won't even blink.
Throughout it all, mr. Gnome come off as murky and menacing, like they know something deep and dark and secret that you might just be able to glean if you listen real closely (but probably won't ever be able to fully comprehend). mr. Gnome may call Cleveland home, but you wouldn't know it from their sound; to my ears, at least, they fall somewhere between Trance Syndicate-style Texas noiserock mess and the more tightly-wound, claustrophobic edges of NY-dwellers like Cop Shoot Cop or godfathers Sonic Youth.
I won't lie -- the heavy stuff's what hits me the hardest, so Skeleton starts off a little slow/quiet with "Spain," which waits 'til partway through before tossing jagged shards of guitar crunch in amid the somber, quasi-tribal drums and echoey, half-whispered vocals. The brief, oddly backwoods-gospel-sounding "Hills, Valleys, and Valium" doesn't do much to rev things up, instead remaining minimal and intriguing, with not much involved but handclaps and Barille's faraway voice.
It takes "Slow Slide," with its intricate, tricky drumming, childlike-yet-scary vocals, and awesomely roaring guitars, to really kick things into gear. Then there's "Searider Falcon," a mostly-instrumental that sways near to Pelican territory, the rollicking, bitter stomp of "Cleveland Polka," and the fiery, nearly Queens of the Stone Age-esque thunder midway through "Today Brings a Bomb." The music rolls and rumbles, shivering and strange, pulling you inexorably in even if you're not consciously paying attention.
Across the face of the album, the band drifts from motif to motif, often several times in the same song. Take "Sit Up & Hum," for example -- it switches between stomping/crushing rock and softer, folkier bits throughout, but then, about two-thirds of the way in, it morphs into something that sounds like Beth Gibbons of Portishead fronting Muse. Which kind of points to the unifying, solidifying factor to all of this, the integral part of mr. Gnome's sound without which they'd risk sounding scattered and confused: Barille's aforementioned voice.
It's both otherworldly and down-home, reminding me alternately of Jolie Holland, Karen O, Gibbons, or Kim Gordon, and it's easily the most compelling thing about the band. Barille evokes a weird, almost mystical eerieness, even when she's singing the quieter stuff (see the closing title track for proof of that), and she can throw it any direction she needs it to go, soaring beautifully or whispering like a terrified child hiding under the bed or spiraling with a detached menace. And it holds the disparate strands of sound together, allowing Barille and Meister to cobble together whatever their considerable talents feel like grabbing onto.
There's an interesting hillbilly twang thing buried in there, too, which keeps her voice from nearing the same fey territory as, say, Eisley. I keep coming back to The Wizard of Oz when I listen to Heave Yer Skeleton (not least of all because the "ho-ho" vocals in the break of "Spain" make me think of the Winkies' marching song), and to stretch a comparison somewhat, if Eisley are collectively Glinda the Good Witch, mr. Gnome are the Wicked Witch of the West. There may indeed be some kind of fairy tale unspooling itself in the oblique, dark, ghost-, skeleton-, and vampire-referencing lyrics of Heave Yer Skeleton, but trust me, it's a dark one, one without any kind of cheery, sanitized ending for the hapless children involved.
[mr. Gnome is playing 12/4/09 at Rudyard's, along with Fired For Walking & Bright Men of Learning.]