Friday, February 06, 2009

The Modern Skirts: All Of Us In Our Night

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The sophomore release from Athens, Georgia band Modern Skirts, All Of Us In Our Night is a solid but occasionally frustrating album. At its best, it's catchy and melodic as hell and shows all the hallmarks of a band willing to experiment in finding its style. Coupled with incisive and humorous lyrics and a clean production that gives the vocals and instruments plenty of space, it's a nice enough slice of indie pop. Other times it's far dodgier and less interesting; some songs sound like Britpop leftovers that have long since passed their expiration date.

This tendency is nothing new for Modern Skirts: its debut album Catalogue of Generous Men suggested the band had been busy studying Blur's back pages. Whether the band worships at the Britpop altar or these similarities are entirely coincidental remains to be seen; certainly the vocal quirks of lead singer Jay Gulley are at times eerily reminiscent of Damon Albarn and would lead anyone to draw such comparisons. Gulley's vocals play a large part in making these similarities apparent, but the songs' musical arrangements act as co-conspirators. Some songs move at a pace and rhythm highly suggestive of bands from across the pond; these wouldn't sound out of place as b-sides to Parklife or Modern Life Is Rubbish. Of course this isn't necessarily a bad thing; a band could do much worse than draw comparisons to Blur. Still, the songs sound too forced and overly crafted.

The songs that move into less derivative territory are the most engaging, and make the album worth either a purchase. The most memorable songs build from a primarily acoustic basis, with an emphasis on guitars, piano and minimal percussion. "Chokehold" features hushed vocals and a subtle guitar line. The vocals in particular are unaffected and untreated like they are on other songs, a refreshing change.. "Soft Petals" sports a similar vocal and musical arrangement, but is more airy and atmospheric, while "Yugo" features nice piano flourishes underneath intricate harmonies and background vocals. Perhaps the album's bleakest and most resigned track, "Mrs." is its finest moment, three minutes of gently strummed guitars and washes of percussion that perfectly compliment the vocals.

All Of Us In Our Night plays like a single album with two separate musical ideas that don't always mesh together. The result of either chance or osmosis, its least interesting songs sound like Britpop color-by-numbers, about 15 years too late. Still, a handful of other songs are undeniably outstanding and suggest that the best is yet to come for Modern Skirts.

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