Head below water
Guilt by association doesn't always apply to record producers, mainly because they remain anonymous to everyone but the fetishists who pore over the liner notes and memorize every last detail, from the name of the assistant engineer to all of the people thanked by the band. So only a few people will care that Keith Cleversley--known for his work with the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and Spiritualized--has seemingly sold his services and his soul to the first mediocre band whose check cleared. But it goes deeper than just that: He not only recorded Hi-Fi Drowning's sophomore disc, he's also releasing it on his own Chicago-based record label, Luminous Records. It makes you wonder how the same ears responsible for so many great records could hear anything on Nanci Darvish, an album so lightweight that it could blow away every time you try to remove it from the jewel case.
On the surface, Cleversley's stamp of approval has already legitimized Hi-Fi Drowning, placing it in the company of the other bands he has worked with. Or at least it has according to the band and its publicist, since Cleversley's name and resume appear in Hi-Fi Drowning's press kit more than anything else does. Born out of Hi-Fi Drowning's abortive demo deal with MCA Records, Cleversley's collaboration with the band is distracting, making the album sound like every other band he has produced, only with everything that made those bands interesting sucked out. Of course, that's not all Cleversley's fault. The band--singer-guitarist Eric Martin, guitarist Jeremy Eggert, bassist Jon Eggert, and Drummer Carlos Jackson--didn't give him much to work with, and, bless him, no one can make frat-pop sound like Spiritualized. Better to let the songs (all of which should carry the songwriting credit "Trad. Arr. Alternarock") try to stand on their own wobbly legs than to trip them up in the studio.
On the plus side, Nanci Darvish contains at least a trio of songs that have as much business being on the radio as anything by the half-hit-wonders on the bill at the recent EDGE Fest. "Pole Position," "Taking the World," and "Therapy and Wine"--which could be the same song--are the kind of jangly pap that gets spun 10 times an hour on KDGE-FM. Martin sings with the exact same insincere sincerity in his voice as Grand Street Cryers frontman Tim Locke, and I do mean the exact same, his imitation only a scant bit better than the rest of the band's stab at it. In fact, it was tempting to rerun the review that appeared in the Dallas Observer around this time last year, when Locke and his band released their second self-titled album, if only because it would have been easier than trying to write about the same record twice. The only change: It wasn't good then, and it's even worse now.
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