Stomacher is a band that knows what it is doing. Everything, from the art to the songwriting to the recording techniques, is highly stylized. No part of this album “just happened.” I don’t know what the people in this band are like, but I’m willing to bet they’re a lot like the guys in ’90s staples Live: serious about all aspects of their music and equally as passionate.
The music of Sentimental Education is serious music. These guys take their craft very seriously, and it shows. The easiest comparison to make is to OK Computer. Both albums have a dark, expansive quality about them that was meant to convey the idea that this all meant something. And, true to its companion, the best way to explain the music is through its accompanying art.
The feel of Sentimental Education is very stark. The cover art is a black-and-white photo freckled girl releasing a mouthful of smoke. The girl is looking down at the smoke as if it’s the first puff she’s ever released from her mouth. No name, no words, no color. It has the feel of a film print; I don’t know if it was modeled to look that way or if it actually was taken on film. But the overall image (paired with the name Sentimental Education) conveys a feel that the songs are about the way we are socialized; the idea of how to be a human in our society. The various pictures through the booklet explain this in greater detail: single man with umbrella, man sleeping on train, Asian schoolgirls, a rainy skyline, a jubilant hug, a concerned old man.
The lyrics fit right in line with this thought. The lyrics are descriptions of scenes; not stories, per se, but the feelings that a certain scene (perhaps the scenes portrayed in the booklet’s pictures?) makes the narrator feel. These aren’t pop songs; there aren’t really choruses. They aren’t post-rock pieces; the songs have weight in individual parts and not just in the overall scope of the piece.
The whole atmosphere is dark; set again by the art. Black is the most common color, and the starkness of black and white is common. The music is lush, but not so much so that the feels are obscured by the instruments. “The Devil” has strings (as well as the most spot-on impression of Thom Yorke I’ve ever heard), but the overall feel of total lostness is retained. The meaning is not clogged on the best tracks.
Even though the album speaks as a whole, there are individual tracks that speak louder than others. The delicate, Sigur Ros-esque synth beginning of “Parade” meshes seamlessly with a wiry, Interpol-esque rhythm section to create the type of song that people talk about. It’s the song that sticks out most here, because it’s the best combination of the form and style that they cultivate and downright good songwriting. It’s just a haunting piece of work.
“Police” also sticks out. It’s got a similar wispy feeling running throughout it, but the tempo is high and the adrenaline is pumping. There’s some fuzzy sounds going on, but the main stage is given to the wavering-yet-confident tenor vocals and falsetto. It’s the type of song that seems to become the moment in which it lies; it gives weight to lonely car drives or movie scenes.
The rest of the album falls in the continuum between “The Devil” (totally mood-based) and “Peasant Song” (the tambourine-shaking, distortion chomping, “Electioneering” equivalent).
Sentimental Education trades pop sensibilities for a thoroughly-realized mood, and the results are dramatic. Stomacher very nearly accomplishes everything they set out to on this release; almost everything they shoot for they acquire. This is a great release by a band that has full control and understanding of what they are capable of doing. Their highly stylized rock is powerful, intricate and consuming.