Welcome to the Middle
oddamn Radiohead. The one word you probably don’t want to read right now. If one can in some multi-branched way trace much of modern popular music to the seminal, mind-twitching psychedelic efforts of the Beatles in the mid-to-late-sixties, I would venture a guess that one day in the hazy distance of pop music’s future, Radiohead may cast the same Bunyanesque shadow. Looking about the pop horizon now, watered-down Radiohead amalgams are a dime-a-dozen. From the made-for-radio histrionics of Coldplay to the vampiric operatics of Muse, far too many bands have emerged rabid and bug-eyed from feasting on Radiohead’s paranoid android hysteria and shamelessly trying to recapture lightning in a bottle. Into this sad breach steps Laguardia.
Produced by the capable Brad Wood of Tortoise and Liz Phair fame, Laguardia’s debut album, Welcome to the Middle, triggers sensory-overload from the first note. Where have you heard this song before? On the radio, maybe when your head was elsewhere? On a movie soundtrack as you twisted in your seat? Well, sort of. It just wasn’t Laguardia. Wood layers these songs through wet gauze, and each sound mutters against the slightest hesitation to move forward. They seem wet and pliant, one breath removed from clarity. Unfortunately, beneath this fractal layering, most of the songs hang on a formulaic series of traits that add themselves up with frightening precision. Faint, atmospheric synths float with wandering piano arpeggios and unimaginative drum work. Hovering vocals suspend themselves over several beats and twist themselves around syllables, leading to a chorus which may or may not (it does) involve the use of a few repeated “Da’s” or “La’s.”
Calculated and all-too-anticipated, the similarity of most of the music makes the album as static and still as a winter’s landscape. The marching beat and dark piano of “Roseanna” drive Joshua Ostrander’s sneering chorus on the debut song. As an opener, it snags you immediately but only because you have yet to devise the album’s formula. All too soon, it’s merely an intro to one endless, seamless track. With gothic piano and faintly screened vocals, “Butterfly” continues in the same bloodless vein, screaming Muse-knockoff. Laguardia have now removed themselves one further notch from the heart of the matter; they’re stealing from the thieves. “Bull Ride” begins with a drifting, seaside piano that dances around sleigh bells with Ostrander’s voice until the sand is sifted out through its atmospheric surf. Separated from its predecessors, it is an interesting American waltz, but by now a pattern has emerged.
Still, beneath this staid musical landscape lie a series of melodies that claw their way through your resolve. Laguardia seems to have stowed away an endless supply, and they spurt and drip through the lackadaisical music behind them. “Sensation” starts with moaning lunar synths and slow piano, but as the drums open up the shades and force a little light in, the song rises into a searing guitar brigade that leaves little memory of its ethereal origin. Scraped clean of its mournful piano and familiar drunk melody, “Sleepover” is a stunning creation. With the addition of Brad Wood’s gurgling sax to hold up the lilting melody, the song puts the album down for a long morphine’s requiem.
And thus ends an offering from a band that, at the very least, seems to have foreseen its own positioning. We were offered a look at the middle, and we are left somewhere thereabouts, in a vague anemic wasteland so close sonically and yet so distant in scope from polar points of contrast that the middle is the only ground in sight. Hopefully, as the templates shift and certain looming giants shrug forward to the next stage, Laguardia will rearrange their sonic paradigm and develop their own sound. Until then, in the six-degrees-of-Radiohead game, Laguardia will remain two-degrees removed.