I'm almost 100% sure Spiraling could be huge (50,000 friends on Myspace can't hurt), and even make more than one good record. It's just so painful to listen to -- and I would have fallen for this kind of thing hook, line, and sinker five or six years ago. They're a basically a charmless, low-rent Fountains of Wayne-meets-Ben Folds Five kind of band. And frighteningly, I seem to be using that analogy a lot lately. I've also become completely intolerant of awkward and trite lyrics. What's funny is that Spiraling have an amazingly slick sound, but not the website to match, which is also something I'm intolerant of in this day and age.
For some reason, Spiraling makes me think of young Aussies Youth Group, who are doing a much better job of integrating the Coldplay + Phantom Planet aesthetic (and not just because of that "O.C." appearance, either) -- and they have a bitchin' rhythm section that makes the music actually interesting to listen to. And sometimes a simple lyric is better than a belabored, and too-clever-to-actually-be-clever lyric.
Which brings me to the incredibly disappointing new single from Ben Kweller, "Penny on the Train Track." His last album was a real letdown, and this track doesn't give me hope for his latest, due out next month. I've been following Ben since the Radish days (ha! remember that?), but I just don't feel like his songwriting is progressing -- or rather, that it's progressing in a direction that I'm comfortable with. I kind of feel the same way about his buddy Ben Lee, who's also suffering from some sort of lyrical identity crisis; however, the aforementioned Ben Folds is still going strong (I was totally charmed by his soundtrack for Under The Hedge...). On the other hand, they do fantastic work when they're all together...
The Bens -- Wicked Little Town (Tommy Gnosis Version, Hedwig and the Angry Inch cover)
Tracking the recent blog-0-sphere blowup for the sweet pop offerings of The Bicycles and Kite Flying Society has been interesting as well. The Bicycles seem to suffer from the same consistency issues that The Apples in Stereo did, mining that same aesthetic territory -- which is to say, there's two or three songs that are incredibly solid, and the rest are just plain bad with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. However, the top bloggers are all over this shit: Chromewaves, YANP, *sixeyes, Said the Gramophone -- all totally guilty for pushing quality bubblegum retro pop in the past, but they're slipping up here. (Frank at Chromewaves posted the band first, back in May, and I remember barely getting through the first 30 seconds before trashing "Longjohns and Toques" in disgust.) For instance, "B-b-b-bicyles" starts strong with a pseudo-White Stripes conceit -- which is to say, it doesn't even really reference 60's pop, but its antecedent, and then collapses in on itself and becomes unlistenable mush (where'd that hook go?) in the later verses -- never a good sign. "Gotta Get Out" is saved by the rollicking horns and generally stable trajectory -- it teeters close to crashing and burning, but manages to squeak through the finishline relatively unscathed. "Cuddly Toy" manages only to work on a very supervificial level because it's a cover; usually I'd be happy someone was covering The Monkees (who were covering, sort of, Harry Nilsson, who wrote the song) with so much vivacity, but the presentation is so artfully constructed that it sucks all the life out of that charming song.
Meanwhile, I absolutely hated Kite Flying Society (ref. Rushmore) on the first few listens, but I'm slowly coming around. The outright Shins-iness was what really turned me off at first, but really, deep down, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing when done well -- that is, delicate, sugarspun songs on acoustic guitar with spiralling backing vocals. And when a band specifically lists Harry Nilsson's The Point as an influence, I'm pretty much lost. I hope nice things happen for these kids, because they sure have the potential. See, I'm not always mean...
And, I really should let you know this right now: I really don't like The Knife, never have -- and it's been confusing me for years. Am I missing something? Since the rise of the most recent buzz, I've been trying for months to figure them out. Remixes help, especially that new Ratatat one of "We Share Our Mother's Health," but feel like I'm missing something major here. Can someone clue me in? Or is the emperor really not wearing any clothes, and no one wants to say anything about it?