The Standard
Wire Post to Wire
2004
A-



the Standard make music like they’ve suffered a collective concussion. Images and distorted noises wander through the memory at the random disposal of a battered brain. Rocky, sea-foamed shores. The grinding hymnal of an engine’s boil. A blinked glance beside a stranger’s passing. All of these images flicker past as you listen to The Standard’s Wire Post to Wire. They are the ephemeral strokes to your day, and this is an album best viewed as the encapsulation of those shrifts. The ones you never fully capture until you sit at night, alone, a few days post-recovery, and begin to piece it all together.

And, I must admit, it’s a surprise to think much at all about the new damage with The Standard. Started in Portland in 1999, their self-titled debut was incapable of prodding you into these visions, these half-lucid garbles of thought and imagination. They were another post-pop Pavement clone, right down to the production of Jeff Saltzman, who had just finished working with Malkmus on the Pavement lead singer’s debut solo record. Follow-up, 2002’s August, added some prog-inspired keyboard strikes, but for the most part, the group was still treading water and largely uninspired.

So, The Standard were patient with the growth of their third album, living together and working a seafood restaurant in Long Island to promote a vision that sounded more like their live sound. Two years later, with Wire Post to Wire—produced again by long-time associate and unofficial band member Saltzman and released on Ye Roc Records—it’s hard not to be astounded by their progress. The album is absolutely rigid with focus and maniacally attentive to detail, allowing each song its own breathing space until it’s fit to be tied and hung out to dry and watching as it splatters spokes of frigid angst and belabored spirit on the walls. The pacing is languid and luxurious, with only one of its nine songs clocking in under four minutes and five pushing or surpassing six.

Opener “Metropolitan” stutters with a frenetic doomsday intro before lead singer Tim Putnam enters with his high-browed wail. It’s a voice that takes some getting used to, but eventually its bruised menace is one of the group’s greatest assets. As the song braces itself for a continued charge, it dissolves into a solemn piano dirge, as unexpected, given its frantic start, as it is welcome. “Even Numbers” uses the same extended time signatures and prog-based development, but founds itself on a stargazing piano line that sounds like benzedrined Walkmen. Against limber basslines, pushed down in the mix to highlight Jay Clarke’s piano-craft (another of the band’s premier features), its ephemeral progress never subsides into simplistic quiet/loud dynamism, but strains itself to tempt you with both.

At times, the Standard’s extended patience seems restraining, as though they’re holding back from an obvious extension. “Folk Song”, a track that centers on another of Putnam’s gorgeous piano lines, takes too much time to channel its frustration, and when it finally spills open on harsh textures and skeletal drumwork, it cracks but doesn’t break. There’s the sense that all the captured, bottled rage is still there somewhere, and its refusal to fully give out feels incomplete.

Still, you can’t fault them for their caution. When it works, as it does on the gasped sweatbreak that closes out “Jump Rope”, The Standard manages the sort of arty redefinition that feels lifted out of a steel-enclosed box, sealed of daylight. Or maybe just a studio in rain-plunged Oregon. Deranged and transitory, Wire Post to Wire is a cogent work of post-punk, prog, and who-gives-a-fuck. Drift out to nothingness with them, and feel free to draw upon your fractured visions when you come to.



Reviewed by: Derek Miller
Reviewed on: 2004-11-19
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