The Life and Times – The Flat End of the Earth EP

The Life and Times
The Flat End of the Earth EP

First Impression: A little too typical sounding in an MTV Buzz Band sort of a way from the earlier “90s.
Second Impression: Obviously wrong about first impression. Without a hook in sight, and arrangements too complex to easily identify a refrain, the band’s direction and songwriting is far too challenging to be compared to an MTV Buzz Band. This is, of course, to their credit, but is not necessarily meant as an outright compliment. Originality, though an essential element of making something important, isn’t the only necessity.
The Players: In the spotlight is the lead vocalist/guitarist (who some folks might know was the frontman for the now defunct Shiner) who croons and growls his way through the six tracks. His voice is undeniably strong, but without much range or a well-developed sense of melody, it tends draw too much attention and then grow a little tiresome. One cringes to even bring up the signifier “grunge” these days, but even after three listens Layne Staley still comes to mind as a reasonable vocal comparison, stylistically at least. (Maybe this was the impetus for the early 90s comparison?) The drumming is refreshing in the sense that the beats are atypical, sharp, and tight. He rarely plays the obvious thing, and while this at times seems to addle the group’s opportunities of achieving any kind of pop sensibility, the few times he does play it more straight-ahead do wonders for the songs (See tracks two and six). The bass tends to get a little lost in the mix, and the layers of guitars mingle their slightly deviating rhythms creating a washy surface, but rarely call for an exclamation point.
Third Impression/Songs: The song to skip is definitely the first song, “Raisin in the Sun.” It brings down the rest of the EP. Missing is a centerpiece around which the other elements of the song can move, and as a result it wanders off and one waits for something to happen, to bring it all together, but it never comes. The highlights are easy to find too. The second song, “Houdini,” is aptly placed as it serves as a much needed relief for the CD’s opener. Dreamy, slightly dissonant guitars barely keep their rhythms through this darkly lit tune. The mouthy crooning is counterbalanced by a surprising and welcome subtle falsetto. Think of a slightly jammy Sebadoh, sometime around Harmacy, minus the quickwitted biting lyrics. The last song and title track, however, is truly a gem. Beautiful but in no way a wimpy outro, “The Flat End of the Earth” shows once and for all that the band is certainly capable of writing and playing a well-crafted, moving song, and it serves as proof for why folks might be expecting so much out of this yet unproven outfit.
Fourth Impression/Summary: Though much of the record can blur into one hazy, dark indie-rock mist, it certainly has its moments, which unless we’re talking about the giants of underground genius, is about as much as one should expect from a groups first offering. If The Life and Times can learn to decipher their truly interesting tendencies from those a little too typical or derivative, greater expectations are sure to follow.