SONGS FOR EMMA: Red Lies and Black Rhymes: CD

May 27, 2009

Have to give them credit for not being histrionic. There’s nothing bad about this CD, per se, other than the music is far too restrained. This is a tad disturbing to me, since I’m so predisposed to like these guys. Here are the reasons I thought I’d like them more than I do. 1.) They’re named after Emma Goldman, the lady who said, “If you can’t bowl while doing it, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Or something of that essence. Just fill in what you really like to do. 2.) The vocalist and lyricist, Tommy Strange, and the drummer, Dian Glaub, are both from Strawman (RIP), who I liked quite a bit. Tommy sounds a lot like Leatherface’s Frankie Stubbs – like he flosses with burlap and huffs smoke directly from a factory chimney. 3.) The lyrics are pretty darn good. They’re compassionate, well crafted and well thought out. They read like stand-alone poems that don’t suck. The trouble I have is that the music seems secondary to the lyrics. The lyrics are delivered so deadpan and so up front, that the music itself sounds constrained, cobbled, and labored when they kick in. It’s readily apparent in “Voice of Barcelona,” which starts out feisty and rollicking, then downshifts and chugs to match the mid-pace vocal pattern. There are so few places in the songs with true breathing room or ignition. As a matter of fact, my favorite snatches on this CD are the beginnings of songs and the bridges between choruses when guitarist Mike Millet is allowed to zing around, but my overall ear for Red Lies and Black Rhymes is that it’s running with the parking brake on, that it intentionally keeps all the tempos in first or second gear, and all screams and whispers muted. Revolution to dance to? Give me something new to shake my ass to like the GC5, Strike Anywhere, or Dillinger Four.

 –todd (Broken Rekids)