"Guitar solos are so back!" raved Rolling Stone magazine in May, 2004. Those solos would be courtesy of Ambulance LTD, an indie rock outfit from Harlem with a sound varying from dreamy pop to loud, dense shoegazing. It was back in 2004 that the band released this confident, mature rocker, officially titled "LP." But neither Rolling Stone's nod nor the praise of numerous other music critics has given the band much notoriety or public recognition in the 3 1/2 years since it was released. That is a shame because this album is indeed a very satisfying rocker that has the potential for mass appeal, even years after it was released.
The first track immediately shows Ambulance LTD flexing its guitar might as this instrumental rocker leads to an exciting climax. The use of distortion and the removal of drums at the climax add to the incredible ambiance and attitude of the song, which immediately is candidate for the best song on the album.
Enter Michael Di Liberto, the confident yet simultaneously restrained lead vocalist and guitarist. His vocal debut on the album's second track "Primitive (The Way I Treat You)" is full of promise, but the song's high attitude and swagger suffer also come with a bit of cockiness and annoyance that is not smart for an early track in the album. The band quickly recovers, however, humbling themselves with an acoustic guitar, keyboard, and a muffled drum beat and electrical guitar on the more pleasing "Anecdote," which was featured in the background of a recent Nokia commercial. While pleasant sounding, it is ironic that this has basically led to the band's only 30 seconds of mainstream fame, as it can easily be interpreted as a depiction of heroin use.
Coming off that foot-tapper is the best song on the album, "Heavy Lifting." Half of the song is recorded as a lo-fi, almost Sebadoh-esque dream song that is undeniably cool in its delivery. Then, quite unexpectedly, an unshielded electric guitar leads the way into a drawn out falling action for the song that, wordlessly, closes out the first half's dreamy landscape in a totally different mood.
"Ophelia" and "Stay Where You Are" follow Ambulance LTD's standard, engaging formula of combining a quite standard, melodic rock guitar riff with a vocal presentation covered in a light cloud of distortion to create a calming, psychedelic environment, that simultaneously...well, rocks. "Sugar Pill" similarly combines both elements, but added is a constant "beeping" beat and loud, fast drumming that create a sense of panic and urgency that is also present in "Stay Tuned". It is especially not on the next track "Michigan," whose slow buildup and forgettable melodies make it the low point of the album. Next with that aforementioned song, "Stay Tuned" has a rather intense opening mood that is combined with mysterious lyrics as well as a lighter, more pop sounding chorus that is thoroughly satisfying.
On "Swim," Ambulance LTD combines both dreamy instrumentation and vocals to create a very mellow whose melody rises over the chorus like a wave. The tempo changes a little over halfway through the next tune "Young Urban" when the mellow song rises to a climax followed by the loudest minute in the half on the album. This final minute and a half is the clearest example of shoegazing on the album as the song builds in intensity with loud drumming and a heavily distorted vocal and guitar riff.
The album's concluding piece is where the band's Velvet Underground connection lies. The band performs a solid cover Lou Reed's "The Ocean" from his self-titled debut solo album from 1972. Furthermore, John Cale has recently been working with band, helping them develop new material for their new album due out sometime this Fall.
The new album, however, has apparently been a jarring experience for the band, as "interpersonal dramas" and other controversies have stilted progress on their new material and led to rumors of fragmentation of the band and even breakup.
While I hope for the best with the band's cohesion and progression, whatever happens, they managed to release a sorely underappreciated debut album more than three years ago that deserves more recognition as a dream pop, borderline shoegazing rocker. With further releases, hopefully the band can develop more of a soulful presence in the lyrical and vocal departments as well as with the emotional impact of their melodies. What this album and band is surely not lacking, however, is a mature, rocking attitude that is sure to win many new fans over... if they are given a chance.