By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Life on the Installment Plan
Surely we've all given our noggins a vigorous scratching over life's most perplexing auditory questions: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? What if it's a tree the size of Texas and it's hooked up to a PA system? What's the sound of one hand clapping? How about three hands wearing well-padded mittens? When E.F. Hutton talks, do people really listen? If a boy employs the same melody for all of his songs, does anybody believe what he's saying?
Let's pursue that last query a bit. There's a long dishonor roll of indie-lite bands whose hyper-literate lyrics are heavily insulated, and thus nearly rendered moot, by their Unmelodious Funk (check it, it's a real depressive condition). And for every boy suffering from Unmelodious Funk, there seems to be a group of disciples hanging on his every well-turned phrase as if it were gospel.
Local indie-rock five-piece Valet manage to tread in this languorous landscape without totally drowning in their own funk, or lack of funk, as is the case here. The biggest grooves are fueled by guitars that stroll instead of strut and by a trumpet that cries instead of wails, which makes Valet sound like sweet popsters Beulah with a serious case of melancholy. Meanwhile, frontman Robin Kyle's leisurely sung melodies sound like variations on a rather limited theme, one that pops up again and again like heartache that won't fade.
Valet compensates for some of these shortcomings with pretty, mournful keyboard and pedal steel flourishes that are right at home with Kyle's inventive and dark lyrics: "They say she killed Johnny Ace/They say a lot of things that you'll believe with your head as square as a pool table and twice as green," Kyle sings on "Tony Homes & Johnny Ace vs. Elvis Presley." Kyle's lyrics are witty and smart--he gives props to both Quincy Jones and Dickens's Samuel Weller without seeming like a too-clever namedropper.
Valet's political musings (the minor-key "Tony Homes" offers an unsparing take on white musicians getting rich off black artistic innovations) and beautiful imagery sometimes get by the band's familiar delivery, which is too bad, because Life on the Installment Plan could be bursting with life and death if it didn't cling to the safety of its repetitive formula.