City Paper is not for tourists
In an inteview with the Austin American-Statesman last month, Olly Peacock, drummer for Gomez, posed one of indie rock’s essential questions: “If you’re not played on the radio and you’re not a really commercial band, how in the [expletive] is anybody going to hear your music?” It’s a question Gomez has answered in recent years through TV licensing. Its 2006 single “How We Operate” was accessible enough for Grey’s Anatomy, and its music has appeared on not one but two episodes of House. The continued prime-time dominance of both dramas is good news for Gomez and its new album of TV-friendly tunelets, A New Tide. The group that toured with Dave Matthews and signed to the soft-jammer’s ATO imprint back in ’05 shares many of its patron’s proclivities on the new disc—slowly ascendant jams and an inclination toward the maudlin. “There’s a little piece of me you can’t have…there’s a part of you that wants to fight,” Ben Ottewell sings on “Little Pieces,” a song that doesn’t evoke the space between two lovers so much as break them into small parts that add up to less than the sum of a relationship. The bits ’n’ pieces motif doesn’t get much chance to develop, but it does speak unfavorably to a larger trend in the composition: Gomez’s latest is a frustratingly fragmented affair, with slices of brilliance here and there but a tendency to favor breakdowns, both musical and mental, that leave singer and listener alike grasping for cohesion. The elements that made Gomez the thinking man’s wall-of-sound on its 1999 sophomore effort, Liquid Skin, linger on the new record—there are metronomic guitar workouts (“Other Plans”), blue-eyed soul, and compulsory esoterica like marimba, banjo loops, and sitar-like slide guitar (“Win Park Slope”). There’s still that nonchalant acoustic bounce that made Gomez’s 1998 debut, Bring It On, such an estimable salvo, and Ottewell’s soulful throatiness is still guaranteed to tighten your stomach. But then Ian Ball gets all nasal, like Ben Folds fronting the Decemberists, reverb-soaked guitar is relied on more than ever for artless sound effects, and the sonic experiments seem stale after 2005’s Out West showed the band could do as much and better live. Still, the neat propulsion of “Airstream Driver” and the twining voices on “Win Park Slope” (one of them belonging to Stars singer/guitarist and Broken Social Scenester Amy Millan) will inspire listeners—even if only to revisit the band’s first two albums. And the aural smokiness of closing track “Sunset Gates” evokes the outsider sensibility and expansive cinematography that characterized the band’s finest work, even if, these days, they’re more suited to their home on FOX and ABC.