“TRUE POP” – a phrase worth taking a moment to dissect. Of the two words, “POP” is the more important one here, and when abbreviated, it can often be easy to forget the original meaning. Popular music is liked by the masses and that’s either because it’s easily palatable to those kinds of people who can happily sit and listen to commercial radio all day and not be enraged that the same songs will be played every couple of hours in between incessant irritating adverts, or because it’s got a musical hook. It can be both, of course, and a really great pop song will feature the two. What makes something “true” would be music that stays honest to original beliefs and standards. The real talent comes in creating something that is all of the aforementioned things and also something that’s entirely original.
The phrase “TRUE POP” appears on The Almighty Rhombus’ Facebook page, sat in its Caps Lock glory above a link to the Sudbury’s five piece’s Bandcamp page so people can go and listen to their music. The phrase is somewhat off when describing the band’s output. Sure, there are elements of pop evident in their music – chirpy and friendly guitar riffs, happy-go-lucky vocal harmonies – but because of their nostalgic streak and their desire to go beyond just playing to crowd who would likely question any performer who wasn’t wearing a shirt and sensible shoes, the Almighty Rhombus can’t be said to make “TRUE POP.” But it’s doubtful they were being sincere when they wrote it. (After all, sincerity and dedication to a particular genre is something seldom seen these days bar a few styles.)
Still, as said, the Almighty Rhombus have plenty on offer that would play well to the large crowds. Even in their most “daring” moments on their debut album Lucid Living, they’re playing it safe: they’re loud, but more in a friendly and rambunctious way; guitars might get fuzzy, but in a warmly fuzzy way, like a pair of decrepit old shoes that fit perfectly. And while they might have an appealing likeable sound when listening, the real problem lies in that none of it is deeply rewarding or hugely memorable.
Lucid Living takes off where The Almighty Rhombus EP left off, albeit toning the feverish excitement down a mark or two. One might have assumed that on their debut the band might have turned things up to 11, but instead they sound like they’ve turned down to 7 or 8. Consequently, the best moments from the album aren’t likely to bowl you over completely; the cohesion is still there, but there’s an infectious impetus missing. If you take a song like “Down South” or the lively chorus of “Butane Brain,” then you’ve got the perfect example of all the aforementioned descriptions. “Down South” opens the album on a few distorted bass notes (perhaps playing homage to the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine”), before skittering along to an upbeat guitar chug chorus with plenty of Beach Boys-esque ooo-ing on offer. It’s a good starting point that won’t make you want to turn off, but at the same time it hardly breaks the door down. The album follows suit, often tempering the vivacity in what sounds like a bid to come off like they’re keeping their cool.
All this is rather debasing, which is a shame because Lucid Living isn’t unpleasant to listen to. Instead it suffers the dreaded fate of being mostly mediocre. No one is likely to deject any track here, but no track here is likely to halt the conversation at a party to get the name of the band. You could sit and listen to “Fluorescent” or “Summer Dreams” happily, even nodding your head along, but their impressions aren’t lasting. And there doesn’t even feel like there is something specific to latch onto and blame. Mike Kenny’s vocals can sound limited or blank-faced at times, but the music does plenty to fish him out of sounding entirely detached. Much like the video to “Blank” depicts, Kenny is in the foreground, almost deadpan in his delivery as the rest of the band do a bunch of other fun stuff right behind him. The word “lucid” in the album title might bring to mind the idea of dreams in which the dreamer is in control, but Lucid Living has a strange disconnect. Interpreted another way, the title might suggest a clear and luminous state of being, but even when those flashes happening in the music, they don’t sound nearly as joyful or life affirming as one might hope.
I complained last time that The Almighty Rhombus EP felt all too brief at twelve minutes, and even though Lucid Living verges on being three times as long, it still feels like it’s lacking; it’s easy to finish listening to the album and feel like you either missed something or didn’t quite get served as hearty a dose of the Fang Island/Yo La Tengo-like joy guitar energy you might have hoped for. There are moments which do sound like the band are reaching outwards, unafraid to let loose (the psych-out final minute of “Fluorescent”), or work more a bit more expansively with the ebb and flow of their music (the penultimate “No I Won’t”). But as much as I want to speak up about the album, I can’t but point out other flaws, like the questionable sonic details (the faint muffling of guitars being played between tracks, the irritatingly high pitch of the dissonant guitar that finishes off “No I Won’t”) or the tepid and forgettable lyrical content. If the content felt more assured, made more of an impression, or even just veered more closely to something that could be rightfully assigned the tag “TRUE POP,” then the misgivings could be more easily forgiven. Lucid Living, however, doesn’t hit the mark enough to give it this redemptive quality.
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