It speaks well for the state of rock music when a solid album
like Audio Learning Centerís newest release comes off
flat compared to music coming out with a unique and vibrant
artistic vision. Friendships Often Fade Away has a
solid songwriting core that moves smoothly through familiar
themes and sounds. Products of the northwest scene that produced
so much substantial music in the nineties, songwriters Christopher
Brady and Steven Birch seem completely at home
in the elements that defined that scene: a personal and sometimes
sardonic existentialism carried on a guitar-based sound as
intimate and sincere as it is rockiní. The strength of this
approach only carries the music so far, however, and Audio
Learning Centerís debut LP often feels like a rehashing of
a familiar sound.
On the other hand, this album might be a bright spot on a
radar cluttered with mediocrity for listeners who either are
not familiar with or could not care less for underground music.
This album seems to point to the tale of two sonic cities
that currently defines our musical culture. There are plenty
of bands doing fun and important work on the fringes, but
the difficulty in finding them might create the illusion that
they are few in number. Meanwhile, commercial music seems
so bland and insignificant that a mere fifteen minutes of
time spent with the radio might lead you to spend a week locked
up in your room. Audio Learning Center does not fit into either
of these categories, and their appeal might lie in just that.
Lyrically, Friendships Often Fade Away progresses
through several different moods but consistently examines
the plight of an individual struggling to feel at home in
his world. Although few recent lyricists have had the genius
to navigate the human condition with any conviction (Michael
Stipe, Thom Yorke, and Jeff Mangum in my
book), the primal appeal of existential observations generally
works in the songwriterís favor. Audiences tend to have enormously
wide ranges of appreciation, and elegance rarely serves as
the defining factor in these judgments. While Bradyís words
offer little to no insight into this problem that has plagued
philosophers since "the modern individual" has been
a recognized phenomenon, his themes will likely connect with
listeners, if only in a general sense. For those of you who
cannot stomach an entire album of meditations on failed relationships,
lame jobs, and general depression over an inability to function
in any sort of healthy relationship with the world, Audio
Learning Center throws in a few tracks that are down right
cute. "Favorite" brings into vivid reality the life
of a fan who may enjoy his new favorite band a bit too much.
"Prescription" offers a sarcastic look at the role
of medicine as a means to keep the singer sane. And "I
Love Robot" explores the universal experience of falling
in love with a dysfunctional robot.
The music on Friendships Often Fade Away certainly
feels out of step with current sounds, although it is hard
to decide whether it comes as a breath of fresh air from a
time when mainstream music was actually worth listening to
or as a failure to take steps in any significant new direction.
Building on a strong sense of movement and flow from the beginning,
the album gets groovy on several occasions. Unfortunately,
every time the music picks up in rock-ability, it loses ground
in originality. "Favorite" has a Hole song
floating in it somewhere; "The Dream" comes off
as a mix between Radiohead and the Stone Temple
Pilots with Audio Learning Centerís own version of Pacific
lyricism. All of these songs would have felt at home on the
radio in the mid-nineties. The music comes off surprisingly
optimistic given the lyrical drudgeries. Paul Johnson
delivers peppy drum work to augment Birchís equally powerful
guitar lines. The combination alters between straightforward
grooves and subtle rhythmic movements while Brady adds simple
but important bass parts and effective melodies. All of this
makes it a greater shame that the band could not come up with
better lyrics to add to such a strong musical core.
The call on this album comes down to your faith in the current
condition of rock. Perhaps the following viewpoints will help
you make a decision upon the next visit to your local record
store: a) I spend all of my time disappointed in the radio,
and I long for the days when bands were willing to come up
with a decent riff rather than throw a quasi-macho croon over
a sustained minor chord; b) I have moved into a world of rock
light years ahead of anything mainstream and Iím not looking
back. If you can appreciate this breakdown, then you can tell
where you stand on this album. When it comes right down to
it, however, my personal motto of "the weirder the better"
should not distract you from Friendships Often Fade Away.
Audio Learning Center may not know how to spell "cutting
edge," but they sure can put some solid tunes together.
- The Shell
- Hand Me Downs
- The Dream
- A Dedication
- If You Choose
- I Love Robot
in the webboard
e-mail the chief
Like this article?
it to a friend!