Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Psapp / The Only Thing I Ever Wanted / Rating: 7.0

“The drab sound is a shame considering the well-constructed songs and Galia Durant's emerging strength as a vocalist.”

PFM writer Mark Richardson spent a good half of his review energy talking about Psapp’s production value. I appreciate this angle as I am a firm believer that even the best songs in the world can be killed by a bad engineer or mixing job but what is wrong with this record in my humble opinion has nothing to do with the laptop aspect of making a record at all. In this case it is the old fashioned story of there can be too much of a good thing. The good thing being all the endless hammering of samples and children’s toys squeaking, creaking, talking, honking and plonking.

There might be “well constructed songs” buried in there somewhere but it’s impossible to tell when every single tune is buried under something that sounds like Willy Wonka running over a clown car. After sitting though al 11 tracks I wish this cd came with a bottle of ibuprofen.

The Only Thing I Ever Wanted starts innocently enough with the familiar backdrop of rhythmic plinking, this time by something that sounds like water bouncing off something made of glass. Per Psapp's norm it is all set to exotic time signatures and then decorated by feminine, often sad velvet melodies. Galia Durant's spectacular Lolita like voice is the lighthouse that leads this band towards something memorable and it is an absolute crime to have a heavy blanket of distracting sounds extinguishing her potency and charm. This noisy elf workshop attacking a songstress would be forgivable had it been a one time only situation but the elves never put down there tools for the duration of most of the record. (A brief respite from tracks 9 -11)

PFM points the finger of blame towards the “laptop pop” for their lack of dynamic range but I blame whoever thought every song needed to be bedazzled with a billion cute little sounds. Leave the computer out of it Pitchfork. This is a composer’s faux pas and a song arranger’s worst case scenario.

I get it. I really do. Especially after seeing them live a few months ago with all their adorable props and admiration for the feline species. The juxtaposition of childlike innocence performed with children’s toys tip toeing into adult themed songs played by grown ups using more tradition instruments like guitar and strings makes for an unusual and clever tit for tat.

Part woman - part child, both personalities are well represented but instead of these two sides working in harmony, the glitchy clickety clacks of God knows what turns the delicate dance that is Psapp’s songwriting into something that sounds more like a cuckoo clock wrestling a cashiers register to death. Their first record was a much more successful balance of sounds so I know it is possible for Psapp to find their balance, they just didn’t land on their feet for this one. The vocals are there but darn it the rest of it isn’t and that can’t be worth a 7.0 rating, I am going down to a 5.5.

PS: Do see Psapp live. All the dynamics and depth missing on this record are made up for when they take the stage as a full group. Fear not, all kindergarten props are present and they look pretty darn adorable when held up to the mic to perform, even if maybe it is a little creepy coming from a stage littered with adults.