Man oh man … such a potentially good thing turns so wrong over six songs with Shout Magic’s self-titled EP.
The concept of the band is pretty hip – it’s really quiet, folksy, lulling stuff with quiet guitars, quiet drumming and deep, bad-ass bass playing. “Ben Franklin Forever” is a great kick-off track, as some nice little twee, folksy acoustics with brush drums and playful ‘lead’ electric guitar noodles mesh with a FLUTE to create a supremely laid back, dreamy song. The end result is a way cooler, more modern version of the music used to score approximately 90% of soft-core porn movies from the 70’s (the description’s off-kilter, but strangely accurate).
“Michelin Man” floats along on the same vibe, opening with a set of great guitar interplay laced with a muted trumpet piece. That picks up with the addition of a rhythm section backing some quiet, almost spoken vocals. The horns lay in with the funky upbeat bass and the intertwined guitars, and the result is smooth like soothing cocoa butter.
Unfortunately, things go quickly downhill from there. “Branch Davidians” is a frantic, almost jazzy number that trades a faster rhythm for everything resembling interesting songwriting. “Passyunk” goes farther down that tragic trail; the horn parts in the song sound semi-cool, but after thirty seconds, even those start to track the shame of a bad jazz muzak take on some obscure 70’s game show theme song.
By “The Seabord,” it’s obvious that the general ‘atmosphere’ of the recording is acceptable enough, as the acoustic twee folk drone has a nice touch to it. The problem is in the ‘drone’ part, as everything past the opening two tracks feels stale as month-old Wonder Bread. This song is the perfect example of something that could easily be heard over the ceiling speakers in the ladies formal section (or elevator) of a major department store. The band gives the EP one last valiant effort with the closing “Love Seat,” which vamps up the rhythm section and lays on a heap of gritty two-guitar syrup. The track rocks more than anything else on the disc, but just as the handful of tracks before it, the song doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything.
If Shout Magic would release “Ben Franklin Forever” and “Michelin Man” as a 7”, this review would’ve sparkled. Instead, the band stretched things out into a six-song EP that makes 16 minutes feel like an hour. Throw the first two songs on a mix disc or a hard drive, and toss the other four stinkers off the deep end.