Dallas' The Chemistry Set can finally put their recent past to rest on Blue Monsters, their most ambitious record yet. While the band has worked on its sophomore record, the only recent Chem news that has come forth has been about bassist Cory Helms' fight with cancer, so this album, even if it's not an essential listen, is wonderful enough to give us writer-types something else to talk about for a change. Monsters doesn't set out to change the face of '00s indie-pop songwriting, as singer Stephen Duncan and co. hold the fort with piano-guitar-bass songs, but at least the group understands that tried-and-true pop can still derive strength from great-sounding moments--banjo and piano stepping into the chorus of "The Boy the Story Wrote," tasteful chimes of glockenspiel, an alien-friendly synth breakdown in the structurally interesting "T-Rex Devours the Glitterati" or the funky interplay of guitar and electric piano on "Love." The album even has a great song or two, like "One Night in Menlo Park," an oddball power ballad that starts out with Stephen Duncan's singing and banjo, then grows increasingly weird as synths, trumpets and electric guitar join in. The Pipes Brothers do this album up to the nines with slick production and an eclectic smattering of instruments, but the almost-overwhelming orchestration can sound a bit Pilotdrifty at times. There's also the Polyphonic choral rip-off on closing song "Permanent Guest," and lyrics like "Woke from a fever dream, rotten creatures, bitter cream," while relatively vivid (and sung damn well by Duncan), don't always make an emotional impact. These quibbles, and a few forgettable tunes, make the album fall just short of greatness, which is worth noting only because this album tries so hard to be a monster.
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