I was a big supporter of this DC group’s first two albums, but I’m ending the love affair here. The individual pieces I love are all still there – the cool sound-scapes and complex arrangements – but somehow this is one of the drowsiest albums I’ve heard. Worse yet, the vocals, once a selling point, are buried in the mix, uniformly morose and barely intelligible. In fact, listen to Asleep. Asleep. in a room with some background noise, like an air conditioner, and the vocals become just another part of the blur of sounds. Everything comes into focus somewhat on “We Can Build You”, but the song is such an obvious rip-off of the last decade of Radiohead that it’s hard to take seriously. The only song I’d rate a success is “Last Quarter Of The 20th Century Blues” which benefits from refreshingly simple and bubbly female guest vocals. Those few good moments aside, Asleep. Asleep. is aptly named.
The Last Quarter Of The 20th Century Blues EP is a preview for Bellflur’s next full-length album, due in 2010, with two songs that will appear on the album and three unique to this EP. As with past Bellflur releases, the quartet still sounds like a version of Radiohead designed to appeal to college-age jam band crowds, right down to the Thom Yorke-esque lyrics like “There is no future/just this modern world” on the opener, “Grey Sparkle Finnish Pig” and the “Paranoid Android”-esque parts on “Shooting An Elephant”. This latest batch of songs are a little more willfully detached and melodically obscure than their previous work, and they’re harder to get into as a result. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t show me anything I haven’t heard them do better on their previous two albums.
Sometimes good music comes from the strangest places, like Gaithersburg, Maryland where Bellflur are putting out some devastatingly impressive songs that combine the more interesting elements of post-rock with the epic side of British guitar rock (think Radiohead and Spiritualized). The group may be calling their second release an EP, but Read Walk Take Talk has 10 songs and actually plays like 2 EPs (one with six new songs, and one with remixes of four songs from their 2004 debut). The new songs are better than the remixes, with the jazzy syncopation on the Paranoid Android-esque “Volcano Song” an example of how Bellflur make “thinking man’s” indie-rock. Strong singing and inventive musicianship make Read Walk Take Talk an album that could be huge, by one of the more promising unsigned bands in America.