Many great (and not-so-great) rock bands have been described at one point or another as ‘letting it all hang out’ musically. That’s a common cliché, of course, and it’s one that doesn’t conjure up images of the most technically virtuous performances. Still, that statement is a great way to describe loose, jangly, feedback laced playing that relies more on the emotion of the moment rather than actual sound quality.
However, in the current age of technology, computer audio equipment now allows any note sung or played to be pitch-shifted, cut-and-pasted and essentially built from scratch, if need be. ProTools isn’t just a helping hand anymore – it’s now the focal point of a musical revolution! ‘Letting it all hang out’ has given way to pristine, polished, stiffly starched, over-organized music that’s only sloppy when its ‘sloppy by design’ (here’s looking at you, Good Charlotte and Linkin Park). The old days of warm imperfections are gone to most musicians; unintentional echoes, low whistles, and even the wonderful squeal of fingers sliding up and down fret boards are things of the past. There are no ‘stray hairs’ sticking out anywhere on many new releases.
That’s not to say that neat, tidy recordings can’t drudge up good old rock feelings – it’s just that it takes time to get comfortable with the difference. If the MC5 were a trashed college dorm room full of dim lighting, pizza boxes and dirty underwear, then Grey Does Matter is a public library, where everything is perfectly shelved and meticulously organized via the Dewey Decimal System.
With that being said, it’s imperative to state that lest the wrong impression be given, Your Job Will Kill You is a fantastic record. Certainly, there are no stray notes here; but at the same time, Grey Does Matter doesn’t misplace any sounds, either. Every piece of almost every song feels crucial; there’s no meandering or winding around, even during the album’s instrumental bridges. The guitars are certainly clean throughout the album, but they’re also very sharp, embedding their attitude into each track with electricity that bleeds past the polished engineering.
Your Job Will Kill You sounds a lot like The Rentals playing songs by The Romantics, or maybe Elvis Costello writing material for Savage Garden. “Another Mistake” has a spacey, synth-driven slow throb to it. “Already All Ready” is the catchiest song of the bunch; understated electro-pop verses lead into a guitar-driven bridge-and-chorus combination that’s a dead ringer for quality Sloan material. It’s the album closers, however, that show an unexpected bit of versatility from the band. The subdued “Gatehouse” a broods heavily with synthesizers, while the droning “Life From Under” alternately slithers and chugs, courtesy of cherubic chorus vocals and flailing drumming.
There are times when Grey Does Matter seems to be a bit too crisp and clean – album opener “Irregular Embraces” never actually builds up to the ‘punch’ that it attains to, and “Unlimited Fun Shine” could’ve used a little more ‘rock vibe’ to make it feel more like a necessary track and less like a few random repeating song fragments. The band’s pristine sound quality puts the focus squarely on the songs themselves – and despite the stumbling during the opening tracks, a majority of the band’s songwriting passes that test, making Your Job Will Kill You a good lot of polished, clean fun, indeed.