Logic Will Break Your Heart
he year was 2001. The place: New York City! The culmination of September 11th and a cultural reawakening of sorts (Let’s pretend for a moment that the events are of similar gravity) had all eyes on the metropolis, again. Soon, buzzwords like "post-9/11" and "underground music scene" infected the mainstream press like anthrax. We found ourselves committing to the seemingly impossible: Actually giving a shit about an allegedly relevant music scene. From as far off as the West Coast, magazines were studied for the "current epitome of downtown chic."* Never mind that if you weren’t actually there for the New New Wave, it might be considered an offense against good taste to parade around in tight-fitting jeans, leather jackets, et. al. Who cared when we could all be New Yorkers, with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs CD throbbing out of the stereo and copies of Vice fanned out on the coffee table?
A recent interview with The Strokes in "Rolling Stone" confirmed my belief that would-be Manhattanites are committing gargantuan faux-pas: As it turns out, this New York scene isn’t fueled by the debauchery that characterized the first New Wave movement, but rather by the performers’ own mawkish desires to espouse the look and sound of their forebears. But little of it amounts to much more than dress up; I mean, c’mon; Bright Eyes does more drugs than all the members of The Strokes combined!
Enter The Stills. Or, preferably, don’t. I offered to review this album by my own volition, mistakenly believing that because the band was backed by the Vice Records imprint, it might offer a trace of authenticity. By this point, I’m not expecting the Velvet Underground or Modern Lovers, Blondie or Talking Heads. All I really want is something solid enough musically to hang my figurative hat on. But The Stills, unlike Interpol or even The Strokes, aren’t capable enough necrophiliacs to make me care about a sound that’s been so thoroughly compartmentalized and prostituted into individual albums, that it’s become impossible to record an interesting debut, much less a decent follow-up (Case in point: The Strokes’ Room on Fire, which garnered genial, if unexceptional notices, and The Rapture’s Echoes, released a moment past when everyone stopped caring). Even in regards to a scene for which I have only the lowest of expectations, The Stills’ debut album, Logic Will Break Your Heart is one of the most deafening blasts of mediocrity to be heard this year.
The Stills’ sound can be approximated through the o’er-abused Critic’s Equation: Take Interpol’s dour Ian Curtis posturing, The Strokes’ purported sexiness and marketability, toss it off with production that mimics Roxy Music’s synth-kissed sheen, and you pretty much have a band poised for the big time. But let’s pretend for a moment that you like that Interpol album well enough, but you find it too, you know, too serious. As Jonathan Richman once said, "If the music’s gonna move me, it’s gotta have a beat." Well The Stills have presented for your perusal–beats! Among others, "Changes Are No Good" and "Still in Love Song" chug along on featherweight percussion, drum rolls, flanged guitar swaths, and pretty much every other dance-punk cliche imaginable. That the songs are more or less enjoyable isn’t very surprising; they’ve been carefully engineered to be that way.
Besides those two songs, the only other to make any impression at all is the opener "Lola Stars and Stripes." I’ve read in various quarters that The Stills attempted to incorporate political aspects into their music. I suppose that putting the phrase "Stars and Stripes" in a song title is a daring political act somewhere (Like, maybe the Middle East? I don’t know), but whatever political intent that statement may have had is shrouded by a boringly stiff drumbeat, guitar reverb (Daring!), and a chorus so banal that one could easily imagine it as background noise the promos to "The O.C.." Luckily for The Stills, the song has the proud distinction of being so suffocatingly poor that it actually stands apart from the other material.
I realize now that I’ve bitched more about the NYC scene than the album I sought to review. To compensate, here are three more songs meant to be indicative of the rest of the album, and an accompanying critique (Remember, this applies to the remainder of the album): "Love and Death"/ "Animals and Insects"/ "Gender Bombs"/et. al. benefit enormously from a Cure-esque bass-line, muddled guitar work, and moaned vocal hook. For the miscreant who hasn’t ever walked the streets of New York City, the music portrays a palatable image of what such a life would be like: snowy nights, yellow taxis, and mean girls. But after the eighth song, "Allison Krause," one begins to realize that an urban lifestyle might also embody the shallow values found in The Stills’ music. What else is it, besides pretty? What does it actually make you feel, besides cool?
Logic Will Break Your Heart is but another in a series of NYC-borne albums that traffic in fashionable vacuity. In all fairness, there have been a few bellwether albums to emerge from the scene that will no doubt achieve longevity and reiterate the importance of their predecessors. Interpol’s Turn On the Bright Lights is a first-class amalgamation of their influences, regurgitated with glamour and vivacity. Along with The Strokes’ Is This It, Interpol’s debut was a perfectly cannibalistic homage. But Logic Will Break Your Heart is a self-defeating proposition: an album’s worth of forgettable songs embracing the worst traits of a dying scene. When Interpol came out, critics griped about the group’s similarity to Joy Division. So are we allowed to gripe about The Stills’ similarity to Interpol yet? Was the new New York scene an influential enough force that just as it’s becoming a cliche, it’s influencing hundreds of bands across the nation? Could The Stills’ entirely unremarkable debut be–gasp!–not the end, but just the beginning of a new new New York scene?
*Actual critical blurb from the back of a "Vice’s Guide to Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll," distributed by Warner Brothers media. Relevant to this review in that, it epitomizes in this reviewer’s mind the complete assimilation of a scene into the mainstream consciousness. That is, even a big-time publication like "Entertainment Weekly" can embrace a creation once as repugnantly vile as "Vice."
Reviewed by: Eric Seguy
Reviewed on: 2003-11-26