By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
One degree of separation everybody's a pinata
There are a million ways to say a record is boring without really coming out and saying it; Spin has been doing just that for more than a decade. You can say it's a good record to listen to while doing something else (washing dishes, cleaning the house, etc.), meaning it can't possibly hold your attention past two or three songs. You can also say that the band "shows potential," which is just a hedge in case the band eventually releases something worthwhile. Or, you can say it sounds like Tortoise, which is exactly the same as saying the record is boring, but you never actually have to say the word.
The euphemism we prefer to use for everybody's a pinata is that El Gato is shackled by its influences, still trying to sound like someone else instead of trying to sound like El Gato. The melancholy songs on the five-song EP suggest that the band wanted to be the Smashing Pumpkins until they listened to Radiohead's OK Computer a few times, resulting in a record that is caught between hard rock and an art place. The band never quite figures out which side it prefers, and the shaky alliance falls through more often than not. Even when the band decides it wants to rock, it feels like they lack the chops to get the job done. "(A Song For Television)" would be a Jane's Addiction song if it weren't so slight, Dave Navarro's mutated Led Zeppelin riffs replaced by the droning guitars of John Burgmeier and John Vineyard.
The songs on everybody's a pinata are epic in length (all five clock in at more than five minutes long) but not in content. Each song builds with the promise of a dynamic payoff that never comes, like a joke with an elaborate setup but no punch line. On almost every song, the guitars are frustratingly restrained. "Gumhead vs. The Undertow" comes closest to achieving a moment that would elevate the record above its third-tier status, yet when the song finally starts to deliver, the band immediately backs off, and the moment is lost. The rest of the songs follow the yellow line down the middle of the road to MTV's 120 Minutes, more "inspired by" than truly inspired.
El Gato is still a pretty young band, so it's a little unfair to criticize its members so harshly for wearing their influences on both sleeves. Only in rare cases is a band born fully formed with a sound that is completely debt-free. El Gato is probably a few years away from finding its niche, if it ever finds one. For now, at least, the band only "shows potential," and everybody's a pinata is a good record to listen to while giving your dog a bath or making yourself a sandwich. It's not as boring as Tortoise, though. Like it really could be.