The Player Piano – S/T

There’s no doubt that emo, as a critic-defined genre, has gotten a bad rap. It’s become synonymous with trite lyrics, whining vocalists, and a style copped from Sunny Day Real Estate imitators. But let’s look back at what defined emo in the first place – more than just emotional music (and what music isn’t emotional?), emo originally featured technical percussion, melodic guitar lines, impassioned (and not merely whiney) vocals, and a sense of desperation. Like any genre, countless imitators have watered it down, making it difficult to fully appreciate bands that perform the style well, but that’s no reason to completely dismiss it based simply upon the fact that some critic somewhere called it emo.
Take, for example, the Player Piano, a Provo, Utah-based four-piece who have crafted a style of rock that will definitely fall comfortably into the established emo genre. However, the Player Piano does not sound like Dashboard Confessional or Sunny Day Real Estate. Rather, this band takes the focus away from heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics and puts it squarely on the instrumentation. Many of the songs on this, the band’s debut release, are instrumentals, some as long as six minutes, and if you think a six-minute emo song sounds unbearable, you’re totally wrong.
Melodic, intricate guitar work – featuring Pele-style picked notes as well as more aggressive chords – combines with a deep, rolling bass and intricate, time-changing percussion on every song here, with some featuring the addition of vocals or keyboards. When vocals are present, they’re often distorted slightly or worked into the mix in a Christie Front Drive sort of way. If you told me this album was released in 1997, I wouldn’t be surprised, as this band is more akin to the glory day emo bands than the present imitators.
There’s not a single song here that’s bad in any way, although the only knock on the band is that the use of repetition over longer songs can get a tad tiring. But they don’t often repeat themselves for long, drifting quieter and louder on the opening “Scanning Faces” and “Mayday.” Songs like “Pi/4” float along changing time signatures and keyboard-and-guitar lines that change regularly, making the track more of a journey than a simple catchy tune, while “After the Fact” brings in vocals (albeit minimally) to develop into a catchier rock song. The band’s softer moments, on tracks like the more flowing and melodic (and often quite pretty) “Sudden Left” and “NJB”, evoke images of Tristeza, whose technical proficiency helped that band surpass the emo tag.
One thousand of these CDs come packaged with a cardboard fold-out booklet that lends an almost self-made feel to the album as well as a little extra weight. The music, too, carries a lot of weight, complimenting technical proficiency with emotion. The music flows nicely, crafted around melodic guitars, and when the band incorporates vocals, it only serves to spice up the songs. It’s a fine mix and a stellar debut.