In Flight Radio|
The Sound Inside
1.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
In Flight Radio’s 2006 self-title debut built a name for the Indie rockers. (What kind of name is better left unsaid.) Their second effort, “The Sound Inside,” is a baby step in the right direction, but this chile is a bit colicky. Inspired ideas are undone by uninspired playing and attempts to mix incongruous styles with wrongheaded influences. I got a fervent whiff of the Cranberries in a few too many songs that was stronger than the stench of wet dog and urine coming out of The Bowery at four a.m. Throw in hints of The Pixies, galling imitations of U2, and 1,000 of the 10,000 Maniacs, and you’ve got a mix as potentially deadly as sarin gas.
The group is led by lanky blonde Peira, a Brooklyn-born guitarist who composed nearly all of the material, so love it or ditch it, the weight is on her. Non-smiling Saric (also no last name) is the group’s lead guitar player. Isn’t Saric the leader of the Vulcan’s on “Star Trek?” Well, he occasionally plays like the guitar like its alien to him. Bassist Devin Krug and drummer Mike Dawson need to get with the program and come up with equally serious solitary names that show how 21st Century they are. In the meantime, may I suggest “Da Krug” and “Deputy Daw”? No? I’ll work it, if you guys promise to work on your playing. Krug and Daw don’t play outside the box – they are the box. They’re so standard issue I doubt you’d notice if Da Krug and Deputy Daw were replaced by tape loops. At least Da Krug can fall back on his day job. He took the artsy sunspot photo of Peira that adorns the CD’s cover. Saric also has a second job, having produced “The Sound Inside.” It’s time to turn the faders over to someone else and live long and prosper, Saric.
“Red Flags” (co-written with Da Krug) has a sonic moody intro that hints at an imminent explosion of wattage. Two things are immediately apparent. On this particular cut Peira sounds like she was raised on heavy doses of the Cowboys Junkie’s lead singer Margo Timmins, and Saric locks into a Vulcan mind meld with The Edge, lead string bender for U2. His backing has same ghostly high pitched squeal, and whadda ya know, he has one name too, okay, two if we call him The Saric. Overall “Red Flags” doesn’t send out any immediate distress signals and is one of the album’s more accessible cuts.
Please avoid the whiney chorus of “Please.” Peira lowers her voice to a functional level during the verses, but when she wails “Plllllllease…want it….Pllllleasse want it…” you’ll beg to move on to the next selection, especially as Peira’s whine begins to sound like she’s re-experiencing birth. Saric has also lost his atmospheric Edge, performing assault and battery on his guitar with a wall of irritating 80s chords.
Da Krug and Deputy Daw work in concert to drive the arrangement of “Somewhere In Between,” with Saric feeling the pull of The Edge, but going out of his way to avoid imitating him. He doesn’t. He’s simply out of tune. Check out Saric’s abysmal Humpback Whale lead at the end. Da Krug’s bass is functional, but he’s been using the same figures now for three songs. There’s a disturbing amount of Susanna Hoffs’ cutiepieness that’s snuck into Peira’s voice as well, which is hard to justify given the driving beat.
Peira picks up an acoustic and the music takes a welcome deep breath with “Yelling Up To The Sky”: “Listen to me I have nothing to say, but the words in my eyes give it away.” A recessed Saric does some nice work on guitar providing a sense of urgency with his keening asides. Raw and revealing, “Yelling Up To The Sky” is as close as Peira comes to delivering a message. Take this back to the shop, Peira. A lot less pained grieving and “Yelling To The Sky” could be a lofty success.
Deputy Daw puts a little punch in his kit, Saric makes his guitar flutter and for thirty seconds “Home” is very appealing. Then Peira gets to yodeling in her baby doll register and you wanna runaway from “Home.” What the heck happened to the tough Greenwich Village punk that raised “Red Flags?” She’s surrendered to Lilith-like power ballads that in this case make her sound like an adolescent cross between Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs) and Dolores O’Riordan (the head Cranberry). Too bad I can only take both of the fluttery-voiced front ladies in extremely small doses. “Home” is well played, and In Flight finally gets a jam off the ground, but Peira should have left the kewpie doll approach in the test bin.
Peira rises above her rhythm section’s inadequacies in “Easy Win” by simply not using them. If she trusted her own voice more and was less conscious of trying to ape her idols, “Easy Win” might take flight. It’s reflective and well played, with sympathetic guitar, and an involved, delicate vocal. Consider going acoustic Peira. You’ve got something here.
“Someday” marks a slap in the face return to cluttered choruses, squawks and Saric in search of an identity. You had one, even if it was one I hated, Saric. Deputy Daw puts some paradiddling into the mix, but can’t disguise that Peira’s 80s vocal gymnastics cloak a weak tune. When Saric gives in to his U2 worship two-thirds of the way through, “Someday” shows a glimmer -- a loud glimmer-- when the musicians trip, fall and stumble together during the jam out at the end.
Walk away, no run away from “Just Walk Away.” Saric pulls on his guitar strings with the gentle touch of Quasimodo yanking on a rope in a bell tower. Peira’s in touch with her meaningful side, having dropped her pouting adolescent/drunken Natalie Merchant personas. Her more restrained, flatter voice suits her, and still manages to generate an audible tone. But the instrumentation supporting her, including Saric’s teeth gnashing guitar (Peira’s to blame for some of that too) and Deputy Daw’s try anything drumming, is an absolute mess that negates her promising vocal and makes “Just Walk Away” an unbearable grindfest.
“Finish Line” offers more Cranberries meets the 10,000 Maniacs. Piera’s voice throws another change up, taking on a tortured siren-like approach. Believe me, you get to share her pain. There are too many stretches where OOOOOH, OOOOH, OOOOH serve as lyrics. Yes, I couldn’t wait to get to the finish line and get away from this howler. Bad dog, bad dog.
You must be spying on me through my computer, Peira, because “I Am Not Awake” sent me down the path trod by Morpheus. “I Am Not Awake” is a sophomoric children’s story, but at least Peira isn’t singing like a violated car alarm on this one. Put this to sleep, never to rise again.
A tip of the wig to 10,000 other maniac babe led guitar bands, In Flight Radio has promise, providing someone can get Peira to stop howling as if she’s being tased. Saric has a future selling guitars, not playing them. As long as he relies on gimmickry instead of skill he’ll be a guy with a cool name who sounds like a carbon copy of The Edge. He can play, you just have to wonder if it’s really him or he’s just regurgitating a style he studied and diffused through his fingers. If Peira can stifle the urge to imitate her unhealthy influences, In Flight’s third album should land on the charts. But she needs to keep in mind that even in their heyday the likes of The Pixies and The Cranberries had trouble getting airplay, so a cipher doesn’t stand a chance. Let’s just hope she doesn’t become a fan of Gentle Giant or Yoko Ono, or In Flight Radio will surely crash.