Increasingly these days, you'll find that first-time visitors to New York feel compelled to prove they were actually on the island of Manhattan -- you know, where that terrorist attack happened and all those people were, like, heroes. Yeah, she was so there! Your well-traveled friend will spout off the names of cheeky nightclubs no one in this desert has ever given two shits about -- then will decipher the differences among the five boroughs even though you never asked. Worst, they'll use the word "fabulous!" A lot. You, in turn, are supposed to feel utterly devoid of culture (which, let's face it, you are).
Like your attention-starved friend, the music industry this decade has exhibited its fair share of unabashed pretense via artists paying homage to the 212 -- P.J. Harvey's Stories From the City before the Twin Towers fell, and Bruce Springsteen's The Rising after the tragedy, just to name a couple. The self-titled debut from the transplanted New York quartet Baskervilles, though, is neither pretentious nor -- as the band's very small label Secret Crush will attest -- even capable of being exploitive.
Baskervilles, as it turns out, has a more fundamental problem: In a city full of eccentricities on every corner, the band compiles a body of work that, simply put, sounds too uninspired even for high yuck-yuck crowd. Sure, Baskervilles' Belle and Sebastian-meets-Stereolab sound, personified by the Barbarella-style Moog synths and pop melodies, does turn its back on the Ramones wanna-be trend of the near NYC past. But producers Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Let's Active) and Al Haughton (They Might Be Giants) do little to bring out the heart beneath the chords.
It's as if, on songs like "After Work," "Opening on Thompson" and "Anthem for the Acquaintances," bandleader Rob Keith and mates played a game of "I Spy," jotting down notes rather than craft anything sincere. Still, on tunes like "That Is the Scene" and the album's best composition, "John Riley and the Housewives Who Love Him," Baskervilles show that spark of musical innovation we've come to begrudgingly expect from the Big Apple. But if the platitudes of your Lower East Side-infatuated friends are any indication, it should never, ever be quite this hard to find on wax.
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