Arms of Kismet – Cutting Room Rug

Arms of Kismet
Cutting Room Rug

There was a strange period in the late 90s when a small number of indie-rock acts were embraced by the adult yuppie community at large. Albums like Yo La Tengo’s And Nothing Turned itself Inside-Out and Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs became buzzword water-cooler conversation pieces; the discs themselves became status symbols of the faux-neo-neo-bohemian lifestyle, adorning Ikea coffee tables and bookshelves across the country as tokens of Village Voice cool (long since gone) and mid-life crisis hipster cred.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to imply that the realm of indie rock is one that belongs entirely to the under-30 college set. After all, music is music, and everyone is entitled to enjoy what they enjoy, no matter what their respective ages might be. However, the albums mentioned were no longer self-contained musical documents in the eyes of the newly converted; they became stripped of meaning, given as much thought and consideration as one would give to a Rolex watch or a particularly expensive set of knives. They became consumables for the consumers, enjoyed not for their content but for their image.

And lo, I did hear the people ask: “Mr. Critic, what does this banal piece of social commentary have to do with Arms of Kismet?” Well folks, the short and easy answer is: nothing at all. But the short and difficult answer is – CUE DRAMATIC DRUM ROLL – everything. You see, Mark Doyon is trying to grab the brass ring that groups like the Mercury Rev inadvertently stumbled over, the same brass ring that now lies in the grubby fingers of bands like the Postal Service and Bright Eyes. He wants to get in with the out crowd, painting himself as an eccentric – yet entirely knowable – troubadour of indie cool (the bio on the website unhelpfully describes his music as “post-pop,” which is perhaps the most absurd genre description I’ve ever heard). But there are a few massive hurdles in his way, namely: 1) he’s not very good, and 2) he’s not very interesting.

A quick look on his Myspace page reveals that he lists, among his influences, acts like the Kinks, Smog, Lou Reed, and Radiohead. He claims that “fans of post-modern popsters like Beck, the Flaming Lips, and the Postal Service” will dig on Arms of Kismet. However, Doyon has neither the relentless experimental bent of his ostensible influences nor does he have the effortless pop sensibilities of his supposed peers; instead, a closer point of reference might be Nelly Furtado. Yes, the same Canadian singer that told us that she’s like a bird all those years ago. This is radio pop, pure and simple – merely average, entirely predictable, and designed to be as appealing as possible while still clinging onto some pre-conceived notion of being unconventional. In other words, this is pop music manufactured and designed to project a certain image, lacking any real passion, verve, or conviction. It is, in short, boring and uninspiring. Need I go on?

The music itself isn’t bad, per se, more than it is mediocre. The melodies generally aren’t strong enough to be memorable, and the hooks are old and tired, treading the same pop scale progressions already traversed and explored by countless other artists. While a strong sense of folksy Americana runs through the album, any claims of an experimental bent tend to fall flat, as if Doyon is afraid to be even slightly abrasive. Songs like “Cracks” and “Coil” are almost exciting but never really take off, as they ply and recycle the same sounds, textures, and progressions ad nauseum, and the disco beats that propel “Outbound Train” and “Pinnacle of Same” sound like they’ve been tacked on. The only real bright spot in the album is “Clarendon,” a foot-stomping pop-rock gem that sounds like a lost Wilco B-side bridging the gap between Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It’s undoubtedly the best track on the album, and it’s almost worth the price of admission in and of itself.

Perhaps I am being a little too harsh. Cutting Room Rug is a mildly pleasant and inoffensive pop album. However, it might be a little too pleasant and a little too inoffensive; there are no surprises to be found, and there is nothing that is really memorable about it, save a track or two here and there. It’s the type of album that has one really great single and is then relegated to collect dust in some forgotten corner of a Swedish-made CD shelf, ultimately destined to be consigned to bargain bins and used racks.