Review Summary: "California here we come..."
Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, the duo of Ben Cooper and Alex Cane made a mini-explosion into the fringes of the mainstream after this album was released in 2006. Perhaps not surprisingly, this sudden sliver of fame was due in most part to one of the album’s tracks making an appearance on the hit television series The OC. Despite what reservations myself or you as reader might have over the show, one thing remains clear. They did have a knack for using pretty indie-pop songs. Remember when they used that Sufjan Stevens song? Maybe not, but they did. Trust me, I saw it on the back of a compilation CD once. This little tidbit of trivia is actually very indicative of the self titled debut from Electric President; they make some pretty indie-pop. Unfortunately that’s about all they really do throughout the album, with a few notable exceptions.
Indietronic is a term I have heard tagged to this band, and others for that matter. It really is a stupid term, and a fairly poor conjunction. None the less, the two roots of this fairy-tale word do well to describe what Electric President play. Indie-pop music with electronic influences. Album opener, and one of the better tracks, “Good Morning, Hypocrite” is a perfect example of this. A short organ intro brings about a bubbly drum machine pattern in which softly crooned vocals overlap softly plucked acoustic guitar. See, I told you, indie-pop with electronic influences. This leads me to one of the big problems with the album: it’s nearly all pretty indie-pop with electronic influences. There just isn’t all that much in terms of variety, which becomes tedious by the end of the album. That isn’t to say the individual songs are necessarily bad, in fact there are several good tracks in the mix. “Insomnia”, also known as that song that was on the OC, is a pretty little pop ditty with a great vocal hook. “Grand Machine No. 12 slows the pace to nice effect and relies on that tried and tested pop trope: the vocal ‘bop’ and ‘ba’. Again, these are good songs are their own, but when played as a part of the album, they start to fall flat.
For the most part the album is an average mix of low key indie, however there are a few exceptional tracks. Closer “Farewell” finally shows the duo putting some aggression into their music. The loud bursts of distorted guitar usher in a smooth beat in the latter half of the nearly eight minute track. This is followed by a nice piano driven finale that brings the album to a close on high note. The album highlight comes from the third track, “Ten Thousand Lines”. Built around a screeching guitar background that sounds like Godspeed You Black Emperor attempting pop music, the steady rock beat is very grabbing. The stop-start dynamic that is filled with some cool acoustic guitar work is the best part of the album. Listening through the individual tracks on the album again, I find that they are all at least slightly above average. Yet, I’m left with the feeling that something is missing. Perhaps it's the lack of strong lyricism, after all just look at some of the song titles and you will understand what I mean. The lyrics are pretty much just generic semi-nihilistic ramblings about the lack of hope. Or something along those lines. "Thousands of houses hug this road, but no one's home/ All picket fences look like bones, cause nothing ever grows" is an example from Snow Falling on Dead Neighborhoods. While the lyrics can produce some good imagery, they generally sound recycled from other indie acts who pull them off with more sincerity. Like The Weakerthans, for example.
Ultimately, Electric President’s self titled full length debut is a rare occasion where I find the individual parts are greater then the whole. The songs work better by themselves, listening to the whole album the entire way through becomes tedious by the end. It is an album worth checking out simply because there is good stuff present on it. It isn’t an album that is going to floor you by any stretch of the imagination. It is what it is, simple indie-pop, worthy of a few plays with a couple of tracks (most notably “Ten Thousand Lines”) that are really very good. After all, if they were good enough for the OC, well, I’ll let you make up your own mind on how I should finish that sentence.