Album Review: Slow Buildings, ‘This Is Dead Aesthetic Junk’ (2011)

(This is my first piece for New Reviews, an online review blog for unsigned and underground bands. You can also read the review here:

New Jersey’s Slow Buildings, fronted by Jason Legacy (great name), release their first full-length album This Is Dead Aesthetic Junk, Legacy following up his 2005 record Good Things Happen with a full band sound – extra electric dynamics and more melodious pop.

The breadth of influence strikes immediately. The Beatles, Bowie, The Cure. ‘Nice Guys Finish First’ rolls out with a gentle picking, a little REM, The Velvet Underground, a little Weezer. It is an un-assuming, under-confident start to the record. ‘She’s Candy Covered’ is bouncing, sexy, flirtatious with a metronomic cow bell. ‘Glass Joe’ is the best song on the album. A self-referential opening, a simple, strutting riff, crunching palm-muting, peppered with delicious Beach Boys-esque swooning ooohs.

But then the rest of it. In truth, it is hard not to be so disparaging about the lack of ambition. There is little to show here, very little to distinguish Slow Buildings as a band to be worth noticing. ‘Christian Army Falls’ is gruesomely arbitrary, a seemingly last-minute and rushed ode to Christian belief that is throwaway, off-the-cuff sentiment. A trashy riff complements cruel, cursory lyrics. “Foul agnostics with tempted souls/Will spend eternity like burning coals,” Legacy sings. Isn’t that cute? Hatred of the non-believers. A nice bit of casual hate. Those likely to be offended should tread carefully.

‘I Am A Strange Loop’ is microcosmic of the band’s major flaw. It is decent but totally undemanding. And ‘Hanz Blixx’ surely, surely – please, God – cannot be a riff on Hans Blix. Is it not tragic that, wherever Blix goes, nobody wants to see him? No. Isn’t his plight a comment on the modern condition of lonely, disconnected man? No. This is under-thought silliness. “‘Are we nervous?/Or are we bugged?/There’s a mic hidden underneath the rug.” What? ‘1’s and 0’s’ (sic) seems to be an attack on the university, on the American education. Charles S.Peirce or Henry Adams it is not. The album dribbles out with a limp, blob drop.

It is poorly produced, too. Oce Dytioco’s distortion should be gutsier in many places, but is compressed so desperately that he might as well be played in a thimble. The drums are glum. Synthetically flat, overly-triggered, the result is a plaff-plaff-plaff sound on the snare and cymbals that sound like someone farting onto a saucer. On top of this, the drum lines are totally indisciplined. There are snare rolls every two bars and there is no consistency, like an excited 14-year-old in their first band. It is a ragged, unchecked sound.

Slow Buildings are a band that sound like they have (or want to have) something to say but don’t yet know how to do it. The lyrics are curt but trite. “Yes, I know that my friend is gone/But I can’t look away/Now he hides in a web of lies/So I look to yesterday.” This is an album, a band, a sound that could be exciting if they were more patient. This is an album that lacks in voice, hooks and intrigue. The musicianship is fine, the connection between the musicians evidently comfortable and mutually challenging which is rare. They seem to be searching for their sound, for a maturity that would reward listeners in the future. Legacy is a smart constructor of melodies, but the band struggle underneath the weight of influences, the weight of everything they are trying to do. There is the sense, here, that they are a little too handcuffed, that there is not enough on offer for anyone to be really or wholly enticed or impressed. It is a shame, because they could be so much better.