Standish Arms’ fourth release, There’s a Distinct Possibility That I’ve Never Woken Up, is best described as quiet indie rock. Supposing the band brainstormed and decided on one word to define their album’s sound, the word “haunting” surely would have been the word circled and highlighted. Most of the time the EP achieves this. Especially fine moments include the opener’s backdrop of cello and interspersed flute, and “The Weak Voice on the Phone,” which sparkles with a rising violin melody.
The songs flow well into each other, buffered by minimalist sound effects that create a stark, desolate canvas. These atmospheric moments create a fluid album, making it hard to tell where one song ends and another begins.
The charm is broken at times when the lyrics pollute the beautiful piano and cello lines. The attempt to reach notes clearly out of the vocalist’s range breaks the otherwise melancholy mood. Lyrics and notes the vocalist can hit and hit well would do a lot for this album.
Overall, the musicianship is impressive, as is the songwriting. Good songwriting matched with beautiful symphonic backdrops creates a dynamic sound worth hearing.
Band Name: Standish Arms
Album Name: The Reasoning Engine
Best Element: Perceptive and catchy lyrics infused with pop melodies.
Website: http://www.myspace.com/standisharms, http://www.standisharms.com.
Label Name: OTP Records
Vacillating between surprising brilliance and heart-rending cynicism, Standish Arms’ first full-length release The Reasoning Engineis brimming with pop hooks and riddled with witty lines. From the country swing, do-do-dos and snaps of “Binary Cold” to the unfailingly sing-able “Great Lengths” to the many other foot-tapping melodies and well-placed pauses, The Reasoning Engine is one of those discs I found myself leaving in the car CD player. Brad Caliman is the soul of Standish Arms, a project that has grown from bedroom four-tracks and snippets of “captured noise” into a viable full band.
My favorite track “Great Lengths” develops from a simple guitar and trumpet gliding over a muted drum kit. Caliman’s lyrics truly shape the song, as a line referencing a ballerina devolves into a few waltzing bars before returning to the initial mood. A verbal metaphor turned rhythmic… sheer brilliance! Following this, a snare build-up is eclipsed by guitars and a full ensemble as Caliman wails his most powerfully memorable lines: “We’ll go / to great lengths / our heads / we can’t escape / talking circles / voices are powerless / we can’t find a purpose / but we’re hopeful / ever hopeful / we will compromise.”
Where The Reasoning Engine falls a bit short is the wavering ability of Caliman to hold the notes he writes. Brad Caliman’s voice—at times a bit overly airy for the punk-tinged guitar lines—hovers lightly over sometimes bitter, often rhythmically syncopated, always penetrating lyrics. Whether his near-misses are intentional or not, we cannot tell. This isn’t horribly noticeable, and what is lacking in this department is made up for in the penetratingly honest words and irresistible pop feel of the entire album. I think with a bit of polishing, this project has a chance to break from the ranks of also-rans and radio-station dust-collectors; anyone who can compose songs as Caliman does certainly has a future in songwriting.
Where many singer-songwriters have difficulty prying poetic phrases into their songs, lyrical gems seem to be Caliman’s standard fare. Wordplay dominates the songs on The Reasoning Engine. From slant-rhymes cutting through “Stack the Facts” (“both rooms reek the perfume / of smoke from the jokes next door”) to the sensitively honest “Blinders” (“…couples so closely bound / parading insecurities all over town / what would you do for a hand to hold? / a 98.6 to keep your 97 from cold?”) to his ability to create mood through sensory associations in “Two Birds in a Flock” (“…Eskimo kiss, passionless / polar cap landing / regardless, still standing / regardless, still standing up”), Caliman is certainly a songwriter to look out for.
With some vocal polishing and a continued development, I see Standish Arms becoming a very good band. Fortunately they’re young, and haven’t reached their potential. Consider me interested.