Useless Keys – Is the Painting Changing EP

Useless Keys - Is the Painting Changing EP

The lugubrious angst and anomie of the 1990s are still hangin’ around in the form of this band that revels in the soft verse / loud chorus dichotomy and a slow, dissonant churn of distorted, sharp guitars, menacing bass undertow, and emotionally disaffected vocals from Michael Bauer with lyrics that verge on the paranoid.  It’s no surprise that the songs on this EP follow in the footsteps of the greats of the 90s like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, and Alice In Chains, but there is also an early Sonic Youth-type buzz to the guitars and song structures.  While not of the caliber of the aforementioned bands, Useless Keys brings an unsettled tension to the proceedings, along with occasional female supporting vocals that lighten the mood.

There’s a hint of danger and dissonance to “White Noise” with Michael resembling a hybrid of a laid-back Thurston Moore (Wait, isn’t that an oxymoron?) and Kurt Cobain without the emotional heft.  Michael is backed by lighter female vocals that lift the tune out of its slowly spiraling depression.

“Down Threw” replicates the paranoia of some of Kurt Cobain’s lyrics as Michael sing-talks in a murky tone, his words merging so that it’s hard to tell if he’s saying “Keep a gun in a safe place” or “Keep a gun for Sundays” (and it’s possible he’s alternating both phrases through the song).  Female vocals lurk lightly in the shadows, along with fluid, bright guitar lines that mesh with lower tone guitar, a pushing beat, and tambourine shaking, and then suddenly the song turns on a dime and becomes dreamier with brief, floating female “Oohs” that don’t go along with the paranoiac feel at the song’s start.

The play on words continues in “Arizona State Highway” as Michael intones “Don’t let them find you” and “Don’t let it define you” as the bass guitar drives the song in an ominous cycle.  There’s a clacking beat and little riffs of strummed guitar, along with weird arcade machine noises, hushed vocals from Michael, and cooing female vocals that again sound too sweet for the nightmare scenario tone.  At the 2-minute mark fuzzed-out guitars take over and Michael goes for angsty exclamations that mimic Kurt Cobain as he repeatedly warns “They’re gonna take you down.”

“Is the Painting Changing” is a drawn out comedown with pained vocals from Michael, measured pace bass guitar, and drums and cymbals that crash and bang at odd intervals.  The skeleton of the song is pure noir-country, but it’s fleshed out with a rock guitars and pronounced drums and cymbals.