Call it either a strange coincidence or an extreme PR move: Audio Fiction released
their new EP, Songs in the Key of Orange Alert, so named because
the songs were recorded in New York while the city was under that terror
warning, at the same time a new Orange Alert was announced not long ago.
Yet, save for one song, the record is not overly political, or even a
sonic signpost of the times. Instead, the six songs on the album sound
like a throwback to the decade VH1 loves to recall so nostalgically:
The 1980s. At their recent record release party in New York, a friend
remarked that watching an Audio Fiction show reminded him of a high-school
dance party. And it's true the band's performance did invoke the
spirit of the Brat Pack era, right down to a revved-up cover of Tiffany's
version of Tommy James and the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now."
Audio Fiction describe their sound as a cross between Blondie and No Doubt, because
like those groups, AF are fronted by a female lead singer, Mimi Ferraro. She
a truly dynamic voice, a potent combination of toughness and vulnerability
more akin to Chrissie Hynde than Deborah Harry (and thankfully lacking Gwen Stefani's
petulant girlishness). The music itself is catchy power-pop made with the typical
guitar/drums/bass lineup. And while the raucous and highly danceable tunes seem
like they could be the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie, they aren't retro in
a bad-'80s-cover-band sort of way.
The opening track, "Tick Tock," is deliriously enjoyable ear candy, and at first
it sounds like simply a good party song. After all, the "bells are ringing/ The
crowds are flocking" but then you realize there's a particular "American
railing against, a certain president who can't pronounce the word "nuclear." Yeah,
it's an anti-Bush song (and was released as a single just in time for Republican
National Convention of some weeks ago, which, of course, took place in the band's
hometown of New York City), but the song is so much fun to bop around to like
you're 14 years old that it's hard to pay much attention to what Ferraro's singing
about. This would be good news for a track like "Don't Do It." The song has a
cool, caustic attitude, with snarly guitars and vocals, but when you realize
the singer's getting all worked up just about people who quit their jobs on a
whim, it's hard not to feel let down. Ferraro sings "Don't do it/ Don't quit
your job and walk away" with more urgency than a line like that deserves. Maybe
it's me, but with today's economy and general state of affairs, I can't imagine
anyone impulsively quitting his or her job to goof off or get a tan.
"Impenetrable," on the other hand, is an example of a great marriage between music and words. It also best showcases Ferraro's voice in a gorgeous, sultry tune as she expresses her frailty in a romantic entanglement that has her pleading "not for salvation/ Just grace." While sometimes the lyrics in the EP's other songs can be almost painfully literal, "Impenetrable" is much more evocative in its imagery of light and darkness, creating a mood of sensuous melancholy. Only "Bless Me" comes as close to capturing the same impassioned blend of helplessness, urgency and desire, and if trimmed of some generic phrasings, would be the standout track of the collection.
Songs in the Key of Orange Alert offers a sense of what Audio Fiction
are capable of, and suggests that with a bit of growth, they could be a contender.
It will be interesting to see what the band comes up with when they record a