Review Summary: Ordinary Riches brings more style and talent into a debut than most bands bring to their entire catalog.
It’s no surprise that MTV has been in a steady decline since the 90’s. The “music” based network went from showing videos of all types and styles to putting into constant rotation the same bland, hip-hop and pop videos with the random punk or indie-rock video thrown in there every now and then. To hold onto the music aspect of their business, MTV2 was created as its saving grace. As with “MTV1” they also began weeding out all of the underground music, leaving a repugnant mess of mainstream fodder for the masses. The network finished putting the final nail in the casket when they replaced all music programming with faux-reality shows (that’s right Jersey Shore, I’m talking to you).
So why the tirade about how MTV hates music? Less than a year ago I was flipping through the channels and saw a captivating video obviously inspired by the classic film, Rushmore, featuring a song that was just as intriguing. To my surprise the network I was watching was MTVU, the new channel that plays only, get this, MUSIC. And not just mainstream rubbish, but primarily underground, indie bands. The band that I saw that day was Company of Thieves. Almost immediately, I bought their debut album, Ordinary Riches, and, frankly, I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard.
Ordinary Riches brings together various genres while still maintaining its core sound of alternative/indie-rock. In this one record you hear traces of folk, blues, progressive, pop, rock and jazz, which, in some cases, would leave a product that is convoluted and messy. In Company of Thieves’ case, you hear a beautiful blend of the whole music landscape that is around today.
The album opens up with “Old Letters”, a song that sets the mood with a smooth bass line and atmospheric, spacey effect, that further develops and builds as it goes along. The music is bright and upbeat while being dark and moody all at once. Vocalist Genevieve Schatz has a voice that meshes the soul of blues and jazz with the gritty angst and rage of punk. In addition, guitarist Marc Wollach brings a vast array of styles into his guitar playing. This can range anywhere from simple rock riffs to full blown prog-inspired solos and back into strummed jazz chords.
This point leads to the next track, “In Passing”. If you ever had to make a stylistic comparison with COT, it could be with The Mars Volta. “In Passing” features a guitar solo that wouldn’t be too far off if it was included on De-Loused in the Comatorium, as well as an interesting dueling guitar/piano transition that recalls said album.
The most interesting thing about this album is that at times it does not seem to fit in into mainstream radio but manages to bring in familiar pop elements. Such is the case with the album’s singles, “Oscar Wilde” and “Pressure”. Both feature a catchy chorus, a simple beat, and smooth vocals. But while being poppy, they also take you into a different territory with the intricate guitar playing and atmospheric bridges and transitions.
The rest of the album features many good songs that follow the same formula as the ones already discussed, most notably “Quiet on the Front” and “Even in the Dark”. After you pass the latter track, things start to slip and the most notable problem with the record unveils itself: it’s too long with very little change. While I applaud COT for combing different genres and having a skilled line-up, by the halfway point, all of the songs seem to blend together and sound the same. It sometimes becomes a struggle to listen to the whole album without skipping around for something that sounds different. For an album like this, the best plan would have been to trim the final track list to 9 or 10 songs, making it more concise, and not blending every style on every track. As the old saying goes, “Spread the wealth”.
Albeit this is a big problem with the album, it should not detract you from giving it a listen. Ordinary Riches contains some of the most melodic and beautiful music you will hear nowadays, as well as a group of highly skilled musicians that will, in some instances, blow you away. Finding a band today that has such an impressive debut is rare, and very few bands come to mind when I think of it. There is no doubt that Company of Thieves has what it takes to eventually make a classic record that will have heavy rotation on MTVU, you know, until they stop playing music as well.