East Lansing sits in the middle of a cow field and its musical children tend to sound like farm-raised inbreds invariably trying to create records more interesting than their town or themselves. Not that Ann Arbor can claim much better -white dudes and skinny indie shits comprise the majority of this city’s aural atrocities. Dare I even begin discussing the increasingly disturbing view of Detroit garage rock as this season’s latest jacket? No – but I digress.
Perhaps it’s a matter of distance, or shipping lines. The Spartans are pretty self-sufficient (most of their classes involve raising or growing dinner), so East Lansing need not receive many incoming deliveries. If this Calliope record is any indication, then the record stores are suffering severely under the embargo; it sounds like OK Computer and Mutations just arrived on the shelves, waging war against Dave Matthews and clearly losing.
Calliope probably reigns somewhere just under the Verve Pipe on East Lansing’s local music market, but anywhere else this band would be eaten alive. Lead singer Andy Dryer has a pleasant voice, but it’s also thin and unsuited to the gravity that the band attempts far too often. While his style compliments moments like the quiet intro to “Love=Energy,” it completely debases the chorus, unable to match the “intensity” which the band “builds” behind it.
Everything ends up sounding a little too local for comfort. Calliope recorded this record in their home studio, unaided, and it sounds like it. Some bands pull off self-production and some kill their records with it; Braille clearly conforms to the latter. It’s an understandable oversight. Outside producers mean loss of band power and professional studios equal higher recording costs, but sometimes you get what you pay for. When a band does it all themselves, things start to get a little boring. At four in the morning, heading into take 37, pressing the record button and staring at the red light for four minutes seems like torture – enter sound effects and backwards recording! “Newscast” and “Sassafras” are two such boredom-born gems. Pro Tools thou hast foresaken us. A tip for the future home recorders of America: Don’t skimp on the mastering either. (Come on! I thought you boys wanted to be radio ready!)
Speaking of the radio, “Love is Gonna Get You” is another of those moments where Dryer’s voice fits very well with the music and the song. Sadly, this song will never make it to radio because it isn’t quite up to caliber. It sounds a bit like Five for Fighting’s opportunist single “Superman” but without the polish or the hook. A skilled producer would have brought out the chorus more and cut the unnecessary lulls that crop up periodically just as the song appears to be gaining momentum and direction.
Calliope’s fatal flaw lies in its lack of purpose. They’re either trying to be mainstream yet experimental and spacey, or experimental and spacey yet still accessible; neither pose works for them. Recall that other East Lansing band’s hit single lyrics: “For the life of me, I cannot remember / What made us think that we were wise / And we’d never compromise.” Come on fellas, compromise: You write the songs and play them, but let a producer record you at a real studio and help you pick a direction that doesn’t lead to day jobs and the bargain bin.