The final measures of "A National Car Crash," the last song on To
Everybody, 90 Day Men's new record, contain the same tender
ascending and descending lines that end Derek & the Dominos' "Layla."
It's a wistful melody coerced from a piano, an afterthought that
sighs with regret and anguish. The fact that 90 Day Men, a
Chicago-based quartet whose career to this point has explored the
sterile, academic world of math rock, could elicit such expressive
tones shows the astonishing evolution they have undergone with To
On To Everybody, the emotional vacuum of 90 Day Men's first
long-player, (It(Is)It) Critical Band, has been replaced with
earnestness. They used to be a good, dependable math-rock band that
never sounded very interested in what they were doing; the vocals
were all bored monotones and the arrangements were guitar-heavy and
uneventful, if clever. But on the new album, 90 Day Men have become
expressive without sacrificing their virtuosity.
The difference is striking enough to make you wonder whether 90 Day
Men rendezvoused with a shadowy figure at the crossroads in the past
year. The quartet performing the six songs on To Everybody
doesn't sound one bit like the group that recorded Critical
Band and the 1975-1977-1998 EP. Not only is the playing
better and more passionate, but the entire songwriting style has
changed significantly. These new songs move. They aren't
faster; in fact they're slower. But they progress and shift rapidly,
thanks to the growing role of keyboardist/pianist Andy Lansangan.
Lansangan performed on some of Critical Band's tracks, but
To Everybody marks his first opportunity to break loose with
the group. He more than takes advantage of it. His keys pepper each
song with pounding melodies that add much-needed and unexpected
dimensions. The many time changes hinge on the direction his piano
The two songs that benefit the most from Lansangan's considerable
talents are also the album's best. He provides the hook to "Last
Night, A DJ Saved My Life" with a sustained keyboard progression that
hums like a housetrained theremin. The track could be a Kid A
outtake, with heavily processed drums and soft, breathy vocals.
"A National Car Crash" echoes with delay-pedaled guitars tempered by
the scores of chiming notes emanating beneath Lansangan's fingers.
Robert Lowe's deep, croaky voice sounds downright optimistic thanks
to the inspired keys. Halfway through the song a commanding piano
breaks through a swirl of droning loops, sending it into the searing
finale punctuated with the Clapton homage.
The interplay between Cayce Key's scattershot drumming and
Lansangan's piano takes on a jazz flavor as each instrument works to
its own groove, yet the album is still based in traditional
songwriting structures. Thanks to this somewhat contradictory
approach, as well as the minimal guitar presence, To Everybody
avoids easy categorization. Each song burrows within itself, finding
inspiration in clauses and phrases that, when pieced together, read
like a fractured poem. The meter seems shapeless with its constant
shifts and contortions, but the album never loses its overall