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Midnight Movies
Midnight Movies
Emperor Norton

If the Neumu Web site could accommodate it, this review would have a fluctuating rating, the little darkened squares pulsating like an LED display. This is because this L.A.-based trio's debut album has an uncertain tone, a changeability which leaves it at one moment sounding limp and uninspired, then in the next suddenly coalescing into something far more appealing. Singing drummer (or is that drumming singer?) Gena Olivier holds a steady rhythm while giving it her best Nico voice; the immediate touchstone is a sort of more rough-and-ready Stereolab, complete with semi-detached delivery and bleating space-age keyboards filling in the gaps left by the band's two-guitar-and-drums lineup. But beyond superficial similarities there's a compelling grittiness to Midnight Movies, brought out by the tendency of twin guitarists Larry Schemel and Jason Hammons to lay swathes of noisy, rock-centric riffing over the otherwise glacial surface of these songs.

The singles "Persimmon Tree" and "Mirage," while to some degree representative of the band's sound, come across as pretty bland fare in the context of the album as a whole. Better are the earthy grooves of "Love or a Lesson" (where the drumming's actually more of a Meg White pounding than a smooth, motorik pulse), the intro to "Oh Twilight," which sounds like a version of "Iron Man" being played in a futuristic space station's departure lounge, and the insistent thrust of "Just to Play," which builds from a tense John Carpenter-style start into a gripping, guitar-led series of peaks. Elsewhere the band doesn't quite manage to reconcile its mannered appropriation of a distanced, underground frigidity with its boisterous forays into abrasive, psych-tinged garage rock, but this is probably a good thing, because it's this resistance to homogeneity that gives them the sort of edge they'd otherwise lack. Whether they continue to be able to tread this fine line without giving in to a full-blown identity crisis remains to be seen; in the meantime the more vivid songs on this album are definitely growers, justifiying some perseverance with Midnight Movies.

by Tom Ridge

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