The Hurricane Lamps – Tilting at Windmills

The Hurricane Lamps
Tilting at Windmills

On their third album, Virginia’s Hurricane Lamps reassert that rock can be emotional without being juvenile, can be sincere without being pretentious, and can be rocking without being overbearing. Tilting at Windmills follows up 2000’s You Deserve What You Want with 11 more parcels of the Lamps’ noisy, energetic pop songs, fulfilling a promise to the concerned consumer to keep up the good honest work.
These Lamps are resourceful fellows, once again producing and releasing their own album. Head Lamp Eric Tischler, an occasional contributor to Larry Crane’s TapeOP magazine, feels increasingly more comfortable behind the board, as exhibited by the fact that Windmills sounds better than either of the Lamps previously two efforts. That slight mid-’60’s garage-ish tint to You Deserve What You Want remains intact, but with a few more subtle touches, such as glockenspiel and pedal steel, mixed in; these quieter moments stand out above the guitar distortion without the guitars being dulled or muted. Other than the jet-plane sounding phaser (or something) that takes over “Stranded”‘s chorus, the production lacks gimmicks or silly shenanigans, stressing the songs and not the hi-jinks. There does seem to be more of a concept of how to use sonic space effectively with this record than with their last record, yet they keep it under check and don’t get too involved with the endless possibilities for aimless dicking around that the home recording studio provides. So yes, Tilting at Windmills sounds good, from a production standpoint.
Of course all of that would be meaningless if the songs behind the studio work didn’t bring the gaiety and good times. To this end the Lamps again show improvement; while most songs on You Deserve What You Want were enjoyable, a handful stood prominently out amongst the rest as being damn fine rock songs, thus betraying a spot of inconsistency in Tischler’s songwriting skills. Not that that is an uncommon trait for a songwriter, or even anything to be concerned about, since most songwriters are rather inconsistent. But with Tilting at Windmills, Tischler’s songs hit at a more steady level of success than before, both lyrically and musically.
The Lamps specialize in scruffy yet melodic guitar-driven pop songs. One can hear bits of the Clean (and the whole New Zealand pop sound in general), late period Husker Du, and early ’90’s American indie-rock in the Lamps’ music. The bass is melodic, the drums are impressive without being flashy, and, most importantly, the guitars have a bit of feedback-laced bite without being too harsh or acerbic. Not to say that the songs all sound exactly the same, but the band’s aesthetic barely alters over the course of the album, as one enjoyable, slightly noisy pop song follows another, to yield 11 tracks in all. Being pop songs, lyrics revolve mostly around relationships and such, but Tischler wisely avoids both clichés and over-melodramatic poetry. The words, while never anything amazingly great, are still usually interesting enough to take note of, and are never bad enough to offend or amuse. Yes, these songs impress with their modest, no-fuss attitude and general stick-to-itiveness.
The Hurricane Lamps’ take on rocking indie-pop skullduggery may not be revolutionary or mind-blowing, but it is never less than pretty damn good, and that’s a level of quality that the vast majority of bands never attain. These Lamps embody the musical spirits of both the mid-’60s and early-’90s without slavishly aping the stylistic trappings of either era. They know what they do and they do it well, and for that they deserve to be commended.