This week, seniors Benjamin Brown, Jeff Demas, and Kevin Ewer of the band The Radium Girls released their debut album, “From the Woodwork,” in conjunction with an unveiling performance at the Bug Jar on Wednesday, March 23.
Unfortunately, however, the album falls short of anything resembling professionalism, and does very little to entice listeners by lacking the typical characteristics of a successful album: originality, flawless production and thought-provoking — or at least relatable — lyrics.
The main problem throughout the album is that Demas’ lead vocals are on an entirely different plane than the instruments. The two sound awkwardly distinct, as though they were recorded at separate times and then sloppily joined together later.
Though the actual skill-level of the backing musicians is high, there just isn’t anything unique or complex about their contribution to the songs. As for the lyrics, they are given the same choppy, expositional delivery in every song, and this is in part due to the fact that they’re comprised primarily of one syllable words. The album opens with “Old Man’s Keep,” a track not too displeasing to the ears, yet not really pleasing either. It falls prey to a number of shortcomings that remain consistent throughout the album, including the aforementioned ones.
The entire song smacks of expected, repetitive chords (refer to “Axis of Awesome — 4 Chord Song” on YouTube), and the last minute or so consists of an unexciting attempt at the angsty, poignant closing guitar riffs that a number of other bands have managed to successfully master. As the first song of the album, it did very little to pull me into the remaining 11 tracks, but when I did listen to all of them, what I found was that none of them really broke free of these fundamental mishaps of unoriginality and sloppy production.
Sometimes, albums start off a little rough and then grow into themselves as they progress, but this one unfortunately doesn’t. By the second song, “Mom and Pops,” this album already takes an exponential step downward. The whiney drone of Demas’ singing suggests that the listener should have some sort of longingly emotional attachment to the subject matter of the song.
I really just couldn’t see anything remotely relatable in the song’s lyrics: “Moms and Pops, To Arms! / We’re locking horns, we’re locking horns / From the woodwork, we will slip your grip / Who’s smiling now? Who’s smiling now?” I honestly couldn’t understand what heartstrings of mine this track was supposed to be pulling.
At one point in “Mom and Pops,” the instruments come to a standstill and you can hear the vocals loud and clear for all they are, which is unfortunate. Even though none of the songs really seem to show any cohesion between vocals and instruments, apparently the horns, drums, guitars and bass were actually doing a relatively good job of hiding the vocals’ true unpleasantness.
The moment in “Postmaster” when Demas tries his hand at a sultry voice crack (a lá Chris Martin) but doesn’t quite get there, is a sad one. Up until that point, “Postmaster” was one of the few songs on the album that actually stood out to me as sounding different from the rest and decently appealing.
Luckily, the album’s centerpiece song, “Radium” isn’t too bad, and I have no distinct criticisms of it, but in the end there just isn’t anything particularly memorable or enticing about it. Although it sounds like a slightly better version of the other songs on the album, it essentially falls into the same trap of being an unclear slew of lyrics following a familiar melody, and definitely doesn’t constitute anything that merits a spot as a permanent download in my iTunes library.
The album as a whole flits in and out of reggae pop, which frankly seems like an entirely unnatural genre to try and make thrive in Rochester. All in all, “From the Woodwork,” though a valiant effort by students, sounds like a poorly recorded State Radio, and State Radio really only has two good songs to begin with.
The album could have been stronger by creating a more cohesive, innovative sound. Instead, The Radium Girls fall just shy and landed in an area where they come out sounding just like many other bands who came before them. Hopefully, if they plan to release a second album in the future, they will find their niche of creativity and can produce a more novel sound.
Sklar is a member of the class of 2014.