Tim Be Told – From The Inside EP

Tim Be Told - From The Inside EP

Tim Be Told - From The Inside EP

Thought it could be argued – particularly by anyone who has ever professed a love for “alternative” music – that the glossy pop nuggets of Billboard Magazine’s most famed inventory are often vapid and shameful excuses for musical innovation, there’s little denying that their soaring melodies and everyman treatises on life, love, and loss appeal to a large demographic of the Western world.

Music elitists may turn their noses up at the mere mention of it, but songs in the Top 40 are there for good reason.  Inane as they can occasionally be (“Boom Boom Pow,” anyone?), there’s still some comfort to be found in songs with predictable structures, orthodox instrumentation, and relatable emotions of yearning, fear, elation, and defiance.  Tim Be Told, the latest pop/rock act to rise from the mist of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Charlottesville, VA, has thankfully eschewed the Black Eyed Peas’ trademark absurdity in its quest for chart topping success.  Choosing instead to inject heavy doses of sentimentality into a familiar brand of piano-based pop, the material on the band’s latest EP, From The Inside, is as fetching as anything the Fray or Maroon 5 could whip up.  But whereas each of those bands tend to stick to their respective strengths of balladeering and swaggering neo-soul, Tim Be Told covers both styles and more with an impressive amount of finesse.

Opening track “Analyze” begins conventionally enough, as a melancholy piano melody gives way to a midtempo rock groove, replete with a string section and glossy guitar leads.  As the song clumps along, there’s a clear juxtaposition between the heavy eighth note chug of the rhythm section and the gossamer lead vocals of Tim Ouyang.  The vocals are deceptive in their restraint; Ouyang’s range is actually quite elastic.  The tune is a meditation on love and suffering, as evidence by forlorn lyrics like, “Convince me it’s alright / that loneliness will subside.”  Already, you can imagine an arena full of illuminated cell phones.

Armed with electric piano and acoustic guitar, “Wealth & Poverty” immediately shows the band venturing into blues territory.  With a little less prowess at the mixing board, the tune could be downright swampy, but immaculate production and Ouyang’s flawless delivery make sure the pop sheen stays glistening throughout.  Emitting a vibe of mellow soulfulness, the song is sure to yield to some comparisons to the likes of Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz, though the lyrics about the divide between rich and poor may seem a touch more socially conscious.

“System” deceives at the outset with its drowsy piano melody, only to be shaken awake by an electronic hip-hop drumbeat that is eventually enveloped by the moan of rhythm guitarist Luan Nguyen’s wah-wah pedal and the pummeling drive of the bass and drums.  Offering only the occasional double entendre to explain the nagging temptation of one’s own vices (“Despite these lessons that I’ve learned / I’m still addicted.”), the song is nonetheless Tim Be Told’s darkest moment.  After this, the band shifts direction again with “Third Wheel,” a perfect three and a half minute pop gem comprised of sparkling electric piano chords and the tried and true handclap.

The EP’s last proper cut is also its most adventurous.  “Perfect,” which showcases heavy use of an organ and Wurlitzer, also includes some gospel-tinged female background vocals and a slow-to-build groove that lumbers along in 3/4 time.  At times it feels tentative, but after four songs with such straight forward trajectories, a little unevenness is certainly welcome.  The album’s high point also happens to be Tim Ouyang’s, particularly when he sings a line like, “Baby, I’m on my knees,” in a ridiculously high falsetto.  Adam Lambert couldn’t have done much better during his American Idol run.  As unnecessary as it might be, the sixth and final song – a hidden track by most defintions – is a touching 45-second epilogue of gentle piano playing and stoic words from Ouyang alone.

It’s unlikely that you’ll find anything on From The Inside that you haven’t already discovered in the catalogue of some other chart monster.  What makes the disc worthy of a spin though, is just how adroit Tim Be Told is in being able to traverse all the varied styles of these titans in just one EP.