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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
The Selfish Gene
The Grand Masquerade

Rating: 8/10 ?

December 5, 2007
In 1976 Richard Dawkins published his best-selling and controversial book, The Selfish Gene, which argued that evolution is in fact focused on the competition of genes, themselves being an integral part of natural selection. Considering the backgrounds in anthropology, biology, and genetics of Madison, Wisconsin natives Matthew Allen, Eric Andraska, Mark Marsh, and Michael Weber, the band's homage to Dawkins's seminal book was more than appropriate. The Grand Masquerade, an apt title for The Selfish Gene's sophomore effort, is itself a rollicking ride up and down the DNA chain of humanity's ills, a collection of catchy indie pop songs that is enticing yet ultimately uneven.

The Grand Masquerade begins with a small rush of intrigue: a short prelude of luxurious strings and reverse cymbals builds up to staccato guitar notes as the entire band kicks in on "Weight of Light." The music - tightly crafted and well-produced, though meandering at times - can be best categorized as indie pop, though the larger influences are wide, as evidenced on "Overboard," which exhibits a connection to blues-rock in its opening guitar licks before plunging into standard rock fare.

The lyrics are serviceable, focusing on matters of deception, revenge, and redemption - certainly themes inherent throughout human existence. There are moments of intriguing beauty, as on "Archipelagos," where vivid images are created. Observe the wintry couplet: "premonitions haunting radiate and come to light/ woman in the grey dress disappears into the night." Matthew Allen's vocals are slightly nasal, an effect that, at times, mars the influence of the lyrics, though the instrumentation is solid if not ordinary, and balances Allen's voice. Guitars dominate most of the tracks, though welcomed piano and synthesizer appear intermittently to add layers of sound, as on "Evolver," an interesting take on evolution where "it takes a criminal/ to forge a foggy lens on every spectator."

The Selfish Gene's first album garnered a few comparisons to Spoon, and it would certainly be no surprise to see references to that Austin collective continue with The Grand Masquerade. The album's songs have a catchy quality to them, though none of the tracks stood out in my mind as particularly memorable, even after several listening sessions. The most interesting moments are the turns toward progressive rock, exhibited on "Bidding War" and "Archipelagos," though on the latter there are also the slightest of hints of - gasp - nu metal. There are also similarities on The Grand Masquerade to Wilco's work during the phase of A Ghost Is Born, especially on "Autopilot" and "Bad About It," as well as Aqueduct's style, most specifically on "Fist Fed Up" and "Overboard." Ultimately what we end up with is a mélange of in-the-now musical styles, with none of them dominating the album.

As students of the world of evolution, The Selfish Gene is surely aware that they themselves haven't yet finished evolving. The Grand Masquerade is indeed an advancement for the band, but the diversity of styles explored here leaves the album as more of an experiment than a cohesive effort. But experiments can be rewarding and lead to important discoveries, and all The Selfish Gene need to do now is decide in which direction to go.

Reviewed by Eric J. Morgan
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Eric J. Morgan is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Colorado. He has an orange cat named Nelson and longs for the day when men and women will again dress in three-piece suits and pretty dresses to indulge in three-martini lunches and afternoon affairs.

See other reviews by Eric J. Morgan



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