Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mobius Band / The Loving Sound Of Static / Rating 5.8

it's about time those disgusting discriminations changed.

It’s debatable. Should a label sign any style of band they want or is it in their best interest / the roster’s to stick with a general genre? Perhaps once a label proves itself to have impeccable taste, only then is it safe to venture out into new and exciting styles?

I say it’s debatable because there are varying degrees of success rates. Matador, Astralwerks, and Jagjaguwar are just a few examples of labels that manage to have a rainbow of styles on their roster and sell most of it respectably. Then again, when there has been a questionable sales history on some of the more eclectic / non-traditional titles it becomes fair to ask: would a cd that sold just above par be anchored at the top of sales charts had it been on a more fitting label? For example, would K-OS on Astralwerks have had an even better sales history had it been on a label more known for its hip-hop? (30,000+ is decent tho) Was Sub Pop the proper place for Saint Etienne to call home in the late 90’s? I don’t even like Early Man (metal for non-metal heads ) but is Matador onto something good?

To further stretch this topic I have also heard years of complaints when a label like Equal Vision, Warp, Jade Tree, SST (back in the day) or Ghostly throws an unpredictable curveball into their semi-sturdy roster. Fans of a label suddenly have to question what exactly a record on their favorite label will sound like. Obviously the introduction to mp3 band samples have removed much of the guessing game but I remember the days when a label like Dischord or Sub Pop would put out a new record and I (like so many others) would buy it; no questions asked.

I ask this as a sidebar to the Mobius Band PFM review because in the span of their existence MB made the jump from their own label to Ghostly and PFM goes on to describe that move as “a healthy if unlikely partnership”. That previous tiny comment got my wheels turning and the label debate ensued.(internally speaking)

I understand each writer for PFM has their own separate ideas and opinions but I wanted to share the progression of MB’s reviews on the site regardless. I think their review history is a great example of a love gone stale. In this particular case I don’t think the label has much to do directly with the downward shift of interest in the band but I do know regardless of where to point the finger, a bad PFM review has a ripple affect on everything from other press, radio, and the retail marketplace. I also have to admit I am fascinated by any band that goes from cozy bedmates with PFM to that partner sleeping on the farthest edge of the bed.

(The following examples are just tiny excerpts from each review in chronological order)

Joe Tangari claims to have discovered them as an opening act to Hood back in 2002 and very much liked them:

Mobius BandThree EP[Prescription Rails; 2002] / Rating: 7.8

The speed of the band's progress is stunning. I won't even venture to imagine where they'll be in another year.
As they continue to focus their sound and hone their craft, I have no doubt they'll emerge as a force to be reckoned with. For now, they're certainly one worth listening to.
-Joe Tangari, November 27th, 2002

Fast forward to a few years later:

Mobius BandCity vs Country EP[Ghostly International; 2005]Rating: 8.0

After three self-released, self-recorded, increasingly impressive EPs over the past three years, the band recently signed with those progressive beatheads at Ghostly International and this five-song EP is the first fruit of what seems like a healthy if unlikely partnership Near-flawless in its execution, City vs Country is at once traditional and progressive, easy to listen to, and difficult to ignore.

The newly honed aural slickness only adds to this developing band's potential appeal and instead of getting lost inside a real studio, this rock-electro outfit has found itself-- just in time for their first long-player.

-Ryan Dombal, March 3, 2005

And last but not least, the new full length release

Mobius BandThe Loving Sound of Static[Ghostly International; 2005]Rating: 5.8

Following four increasingly focused EPs that saw the band go from quaint instrumental post-rock to this year's blip-rocking hybrid City vs Country, the Brooklyn-based trio disappoints here by retracing the alienated posture of their previous release while rarely reaching its respectable heights.

Predictably, the first thing to wear is frontman Ben Sterling's monotone musings. Whether his pulse simply sustains at an abnormally low level or he's putting us on with his reedy, Ben Stein-type delivery (sans dead-pan wit, game-show acumen, and conservative agenda), the affectless style is limiting.The vocals become even more troublesome when coupled with some of the record's offensively inane lyrics-- hipster-histrionics can only get you so far, guys.

And instead of glossing over such uninspired wordplay with their dynamic newfound studio polish (Interpol associate Peter Katis helped produce the album), the mistakes are highlighted by an overdose of tepid electro-zzzz ballads.

And the perfectionist production is exquisite and exhausting in its attention to detail and nimble attempts at combining typical guitar jangle with zippy, bionic beats. There's a decent EP buried within the album's 10 songs but, as a whole, Static doesn't have the stamina to uphold its over-extended play.

-Ryan Dombal, August 24, 2005

To my ears MB plays tightly constructed rock-tronix at a relaxed speed. Ben’s sullen vocals remind me of the pacing found on early Karate records which have a subtle hypnotizing effect, not a sleepy one. The more carefully I listen to “The Loving Sounds of Static” the more my ears are rewarded by delicate nuances buried in each song hiding like audio Easter egg treats. (or the Passover afikomen if that’s more your thing). I won’t even bother defending their lyrics; all I will say is there are a million bands with genuinely horrific lyrics and MB doesn’t come close to being that offensive. I was never deeply in love with any of their previous short players so this full length doesn’t disappoint me; it just keeps the band at a reliable better than average status. I would in fact place their entire catalog somewhere in the 7 zone PFM originally started them at.
Part 2:

Recently I happened to play Mobius Band in between two different records on Teenbeat (+/- and Flin Flon) and within that context Mobius sounded right at home and it was as if a new record was born.

My internal debate was triggered again.

Teenbeat doesn’t have an amazingly high profile but at the same time if you tell a music nerd that a band sounds like it’s something Mark from Unrest would release or play in, it takes on a new and very specific reference point. The band may even gain an automatic built in fan base had they in fact been officially associated with Mark Robinson.

A few years back Ghostly kicked off their buzz label status with the release of the Disco Nouveau comp, an electro heavy collection of tracks which was then followed by Matthew Dear, Solvent, Lusine, and Twine…. all who were part of the initial label roster. More recently Ghostly has expanded into a more traditional world of vocal pop music that includes Mobius Band, Midwest Product & Skeletons & The Girl-Faced Boys. None of these indie rock bands are wrong to be on Ghostly nor should Ghostly have to stick to only minimal electronic music but I believe they might find a more responsive/ larger fan base from some place else, like Teenbeat or on grander scale, Matador. (Who am I kidding, what indie rock band wouldn’t want to be on Matador?) It is indeed a natural progression for a business to diversify as it grows but where does a label draw the line?

In a perfect world all music fans have eclectic taste but it’s safe to say an A-typical Interpol fan would embrace Mobius Band long before an A-typical Lusine fan would. I am not saying it is impossible for a label like Ghostly to successfully break a pop band but a label better trusted for their pop infused roster would have the advantage of faster start out of the gate. Its hard enough being a small label and fighting for press attention in an over saturated community of music but its twice as hard to be a small label who is starting from scratch by stumbling into a whole new style of music. With each genre comes a different set of radio folks to win over, a new list of writers to approach, and a new branch of retail to woo.

To use the most popular example: if Arcade Fire had released their hit record on a smaller label like Leaf or Lo Recordings or were the first non industrial band on Metropolis Records for instance, would Pitchfork have reviewed them, given them the nearly perfect rating and in turn created the snowball of hype which has grown into a mountain of popularity? I would be willing to bet that the answer would be no and The Arcade Fire would still be playing to a 100 or so people in some shit bar.

Predicting how a band breaks or who will be the next big thing is nearly impossible as there are so many variable in the equation but without the right label propelling from it from the beginning an artist is lucky to make into the long shot category, no matter how amazing the record is. The Mobius Band are entirely likable and I fear with a bad PFM rating and being on a label indie rock kids don’t know / trust, it might kill this cd before it ever really had a chance.