The Meter Glows
ave you ever been to The Cheesecake Factory? The faux-gourmand’s mini-mall delight, their menu is thicker than the O.E.D. and twice as monotonous. Sandwiching together thick slabs of multi-ethnic sections that boast Mexican egg-rolls to Italian chops, it’s the A.D.D. kid of the ever-evolving casual dining market. With so many dishes listed, it’s hard to focus in on any particular item. Specialization is an unwelcome virtue.
Well, what in the name of sweet God does this have to do with National Eye? On their first album, The Meter Glows, they display a similar need to attempt disparate styles and tastes that distracts from what is otherwise a remarkably interesting debut. A five-piece of experimental popsters from Philadelphia, National Eye succumbs to the spastic desire to throw you a curve just when you’ve warmed to their jaded, sunstroke-woozy pop songs.
For the most part, National Eye’s broken melodies claw their way through thick mounds of reverb and distorted electronic mayhem. Lazy drums tumble underneath restless electronic tones and pings, and slowly a drugged chorus wearing a three-day beard and claiming a name not its own emerges through the hazy sounds. The song hovers there until it moves on—on, but never forward. There’s only so much ground to be covered, and steps are occasionally retraced and forced to fit a new shape. The boundaries fencing these songs in and binding them together are like the unseen borders of states, noticeable only on paper.
The first-half of the album stumbles and holds out its hand with the grace of a drunken hobo weaving his way around street-cans he can’t see but seems to smell—it’s recklessly controlled and inexplicably mesmerizing. The dizzy urban shanty of “Copy of a Copy” sounds cut off from the sea and forced to adorn itself in the shadows of the city. The one-two punch of “NY Absentee” and “Dracula’s Always with Me”, the heart of the album, bleeds oh-so-naturally from the Eastern-tinged surrealism and lumbering drums of the former through the comatose piano and sedated guitar strumming of the latter. These are tales of the observer, the Nick to the world-at-large’s Gatsby. With their music mirroring the oily elegance that Rimbaud and Celine mastered with language, National Eye has an obvious taste for gutter art.
But with an album so dependent upon disorienting movement, several tracks draw you out of its slow progress. The galloping guitars and tuneless VU-inspired jamming on “Friday Afternoon Theem” cuts up the pleasant day-napping of the songs on either side. Elsewhere, the studied mimicry of Neil Young on “Just a Dream” is simply alarming. Was this the result of a bar contest? Fifty bucks and free rounds to the band who best emulated Neil’s hovering, near-crumbling voice and rode Harvest-era drums to a steady, loping pace? If so, I’m certain their drinks were covered by the house that night, but the song’s near-perfect assimilation makes it all the more disturbing.
These tracks nudge you out of your reverie just as you begin to drown in the album’s wobbly, absinthe-blind grotesqueries. To return to Rimbaud for a moment, he wrote in his Letter from the Seer that “the symphony makes movement into the depths, or comes in one leap upon the stage.” This is a notion the National Eye would understand, but hopefully the leaps on their next album won’t sound so indecisive.