Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Project DNA has one amazing song and a bunch of also-rans

March 19, 2010

I love mp3 players, because it makes reviewing music so much easier. I mean, it’s a way better alternative than the discman, which was pretty much nothing but annoying to the one generation that ever used it. Skip city. One problem with Mp3 players, though, is that it occasionally scrambles track order for no reason. This happened to me when I was listening to Project DNA‘s self-titled, and it severely screwed up my listening experience.

My iPod decided that the opening track of this album was going to be “Empty Promises.” It starts out with an acoustic strum, low synths, and the sound of a storm rolling in. Then Jimmy Blecher (who is the majority of Project DNA) calmly intones, “I traded my love and happiness for the joys of a needle and spoon.”

Note to artists reading this: there’s no better way to catch this listener’s attention than to emotionlessly admit a heroin addiction as your introduction. My attention was hooked through the entire song. A weeping violin sneaks in, and its presence livens up Blecher’s emotions. He gets progressively more emotional throughout the song, perfectly in tandem with the instrumental buildup he creates.

The song keeps growing in intensity (but not in tempo, which is impressive) until Blecher is howling with remorse, spitting out advice to others, and seeking forgiveness from God. Then he pulls it back to the dynamics of the beginning and lets the song fade away. It is an emotionally devastating song. I was absolutely stunned. I could not wait for the rest of the album, because an artist who dares put a powerful piece like that as the lead-off must have some amazing stuff in the can.

Thanks to my iPod, I was disappointed. “Empty Promises” is far and away the best track here, making the rest of the album pale in comparison. Even more distressing is that the album doesn’t sound anything at all like “Empty Promises.” Please be offended when I tell you that this is a pop/rock album. I mean, one of the most gut-wrenching confessionals I’ve heard this year is backed up by poppy songs that have no real connection to anything emotional. It’s bait and switch of the worst order.

There’s nothing exciting about the rest of the tracks on Project DNA; some gospel-tinged rock on “Take Me Away” piques interest but more out of the peculiarity of it than its quality. The doo-wop of “Dumb-Hearted,” the ’90s guitar-pop of “In a Minute,” the unconvincing soul of “Whispers in the Wind,” and the funk-infused power-pop of “Callypso” just don’t connect the same way that “Empty Promises” does. In fact, nothing here remotely matches that glorious songwriting moment.

I can’t understand how or why Jimmy Blecher has songs like “Empty Promises” in him and yet chooses to write vapid pop tunes. There’s nothing worth lauding in the upbeat stuff at all. But his one downtempo moment? Magic. I hope his songwriting takes a turn toward the quieter end of his spectrum, because I see real promise there and not in the pop-rock.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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