Tuesday, June 15, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Shoegazing Future Wives Edition

Which one do I wear? We’ve got some homegrown talent this week, and by homegrown I mean not from Japan or the Ukraine but from Ohio!  I feel like we can’t go a week on this site without one of us mentioning how “a small liberal arts college in Ohio,” but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to giving plenty of Ohioans the benefit of the doubt simply because my alma mater’s in their state.

Will  VanderWyden of Lost on Purpose gets just such a benefit.  He’s a singer-songwriter from the Buckeye State, specializing in music about the “themes of everyday life.”  His MySpace bio also quotes him as saying, “It’s not background music; it’s music for headphone walking in the city, music for car driving in the country, music for drinking alone.”  We’ve talked before here on Charge Shot!!! about music’s rarely about just the music anymore and instead plays the role of perpetual life soundtrack.  So I’ve got to respect a man who sets out to make music meant to be listened to without distraction.

Sidenote: one of the genres listed on the Lost on Purpose website is “shoegaze folk.”  I flipped on over to Wikipedia to find out what that meant and only ended up more confused.  As it pertains to music, the term Shoegaze  was apparently coined by someone watching late 80s British acts create a wall of sound but stared at the cornucopia of guitar pedals at their feet.  How this pertains to folk, I have no clue.I’d assumed it had something to do with being bashful and introspective. 

Find out if the shoegazing VanderWyden deserves my benefit of the doubt after the jump.

The Songs

For some bands, I can usually get by with referencing similar acts, point out any discrepancies between the artist and their influences, and call it a day.  Not so with Lost on Purpose and “Outside LA.”  I’ve heard music like this, but I can’t name anyone who’s created it.  Probably because I rarely subject myself to this particular brand of indie altpop.  I’m down with how the guitar ruminates on each chord, the picking’s extremely specific and enjoyable.  I also like the drums.  There’s great playfulness there.  Ideas are quickly tried and tossed away.  A rolling snare crops up toward the end for no reason.  And the added tension of the strings (presumably violins) is a nice touch.  Whatever emotion is in the song resides in the alternately staccato and sustained string runs.  But, man, are the vocals rough.  Apparently there’s something to enjoy about the lyrics, but I couldn’t find it.  I was too distracted by VanderWyden’s monotone vocal meandering.  It’s just boring.  Plus, he uses that vocal layering thing that rappers do a lot.  It’s a chorus of sleepytime coffeehouse poetry. 

“Love Is Not Enough” helped me reconcile Lost on Purpose with artists who I can name.  VanderWyden claims Sufjan Stevens as a major influence, and this is nothing if not an exercise in Sufjan emulation.  Thoughtful, introspective lyrics lay over layered guitar picking.  A handful of falsetto vocals accompanies each chorus.  Let’s call the overall sound ‘pretty.’  Nothing wrong with that.  I’m still not a huge fan of the man’s voice, but at least this time he sounds like he’s singing.  You could almost relax to this one.  Put on some scarygood noise-cancelling headphones and drift off – until he slides his fingers from one chord to another.  Seriously, the high-pitched squeal of him moving up and down the neck is out of control.  It’s louder than anything else in the song.  I do this article each week with earbuds in to make sure I don’t miss the low end on songs and I almost hurled them from my ears in pain.  I’d tell you to go listen for yourself, but I don’t want you to get hurt.

VanderWyden’s certainly at his whiniest on “How to Close.”  Serves me right.  I always ask for underachieving vocalists to sing a bit more and then I get picky about the results.  It’s no worse than what you’ll hear on your average tween rock station.  Just be aware that he’s turned his Nick Drake impression in for a Plain White T’s sound.  The track’s a little more upbeat than the rest of this week’s options.  It’s head-bop worthy.  Were I at an open mic and a dude started up with this guitar part, my toes would be tapping.  The percussion drives hard but it’s real easy; it could just as soon be him stomping on the floor as he plays.  It all contributes to a great looking ride with tunnels galore.  Still, you may find yourself turned off by the exceptionally nasally vocals.  You may be tempted to listen to the lyrics.  I’m sure he’s singing about something that could make you feel feelings.  I’d rather just have the guitars, myself.  Play this song and decide for yourself.

“No More” is about future wives or something, which just makes me think of The Room.  Now I have a headache.  This isn’t going well.  Let me start over (but seriously, he does say “future wife” at some point).  “No More” is uber low-key – like, I-just-drank-a-fifth-of-laudanum low-key.  Guy’s singing about a breakup, making a play on words with “overnight” – it was over that night, get it?  The song opens with dreamy guitar picking, and then out of nowhere it sounds like someone’s eating an apple.  What the hell is that about?  I can’t for the life of me imagine any musical reason for that noise.  Attaching a capo wouldn’t do that.  Positioning a mic wouldn’t do that.  I’m sticking by my apple assumption.  A few minutes later, some of his best music surfaces from the sedated lullaby.  A slide guitar effect drones as strings tremble in the background.  Leaving his lyrics behind, VanderWyden lets himself sing softly, filling the sullen air of the track’s end.  It’s not a great ride but a welcome reminder that he can write some decent music.

Author’s Note

All songs were played on the Pro difficulty at least twice using the Eraser and Vegas characters.  I’m not the only one who was bothered by the gross string squeaking.  User Malvos said of “Love Is Not Enough”: “Puts you to sleep, until they start chewing on the guitar strings.”  Chewing’s probably a good word for it, except I picture a dog just chomping down on the guitar neck and dragging the instrument along the ground while it’s amped. 

Anyone who’s reading this without having played Audiosurf (including non-gamers!) should really check it out.