Pollux – For The Ghost

Pollux - For The Ghost

Pollux - For The Ghost

Ever since the first Coldplay joke was dropped (which, in all fairness, was probably well before The 40 Year Old Virgin hit theaters), it’s been getting increasingly difficult to achieve mainstream success with a style that openly embraces the inflated trappings of arena rock.  Kings of Leon may have finally won over the hometown crowd by succumbing to the genre’s delusions of grandeur, but there’s no denying that in doing so, the band also alienated its core fan base who so loved their rootsy Southern charm and grit.  Approaching things from an entirely different angle, bands like the Fray and Snow Patrol chose to embrace their larger than life sounds from the onset.  If Coldplay’s music is akin to a Coors beer, then Gary Lightbody and his bandmates are swilling pint after pint of Natty Light.

This all being the case, an indie rock band that admits to a smattering of influences such as Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, and Rufus Wainwright – as the members of San Francisco’s Pollux do – should be prepared to fight an uphill battle on the way to stardom.  But listening to the band’s debut, For The Ghost, suggests that this foursome may not be ready to have their way with the nosebleed seats just yet.  While boasting impressive technical control of their instruments and a fluent understanding of textural variation, the band also manages to steer clear of (for the most part) predictable and trite rock gestures so common to groups who have the determination to pack stadiums.  Still, they maintain an ability to generate gargantuan hooks and sing along melodies.  With an indie rock ethos that belies their soaring anthems, the sound achieved by Pollux on For The Ghost strikes a perfect balance between lo-fi cool and polished resplendence.

After an ominous introduction of ambient guitar effects and wordless syllables delivered in a pristine falsetto, the leadoff title track settles into a comfortable groove in 6/8 time.  An indication of things to come, the tune relies heavily on the precise timekeeping of drummer Kevin Weber and the elastic vocal capabilities of frontman Carey Head.  Sometimes sounding like he ingested helium, “For The Ghost” is one of many songs in which Head’s vocal acrobatics are on display.  Though the track’s structure is conventional by pop music standards, it succeeds primarily because of the interplay between Head’s vocals and Jonny Greenwood-influenced guitar work and Weber’s seismic drumming.

“Break Out” is one of the album’s finest tracks, showcasing a fantastically sinewy groove from the rhythm section of Weber and bassist Daniel Stevenson.  Containing memorable melodies and a hypnotic instrumental coda, the song shows off the wide variety of textures that Pollux is capable of conjuring.  With a sparkling bridge section that features acoustic guitar, the cut is also among the first to prominently feature Carey Head on Fender Rhodes, using it here to double his high tenor.  Another high point is the epic closer, “This is the Red Sea.”  In it, cavernous, reverb-treated vocals cascade over rippling arpeggios of electric guitar.  The song feels like it could go on for hours, as comforting and reassured as the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide.  Yet the lyrics suggest just a touch of melancholy, as Head sings, “This ennui speaks of clocks within / a birthing hymn / sung to date / of your life and your debts paid.”

It is in fact this vague presence of emo-ish listlessness (“Listless” is actually the name of one of the album’s songs) and self-pitying lyrics that brings the album down, even if ever so slightly.  Nowhere is this clearer than From The Ghost’s core, where stripped down instrumentation and an emphasis on acoustic guitar puts Carey Head’s messages of wronged love even more up front in the mix.  Despite some exquisitely executed vocal flourishes in “Wish,” lyrical clunkers such as “I lost my wish, I lost my will” sound like something Chris Carrabba would’ve thrown into an already sullen Dashboard Confessional single.  On the downtempo “Burn,” super fuzzed out guitars and a passing nod to the blues can’t save clichés like, “I’ll never let you go.”

Nonetheless, the syrupy lyrics of love’s woes can’t slow down the album’s momentum.  With a great mixture of midtempo pop tunes, breezy acoustic ballads, and even a couple of hard rockers (“RU Icelandic” hits with a razor sharp fury, particularly after the languid pace set up by the album’s middle third), For The Ghost is a fitting resumé for a band whose career could rather effortlessly go in any number of directions.  If it turns out that Pollux is destined to one day fill 20,000 capacity arenas, at least Carey Head’s voice will reach the rafters with out a problem.  And unlike Chris Martin, he will most likely not become the butt of the next Judd Apatow joke.