Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: As Tall As Lions - You Can't Take It With You (* * * 1/2)

It's been a few years since As Tall As Lions made a big impression with their self-titled record, but though it's not completely unusual for bands to take some time between albums, this has been a trying period for the four New Yorkers. Fortunately, even after internal conflict, near break-ups, and drama surrounding the recording and producing of the album, the band have managed to overcome the trials, creating an album more ambitious and confident than the backstory might suggest would be possible. The record does, at times, feel less focused - which may be due to the scattered nature of the recording process - but the progress the band achieves generally overshadows their weaknesses and You Can't Take It With You contains some of the group's best work.

First single and lead-off track "Circles" begins the album in a familiar manner, but with a slightly darker tone and a smoother, more produced feel. My first impression was that it sounded remarkably like Minus the Bear or newcomers This Town Needs Guns, with the active guitars, sharp percussion, and singer Dan Nigro's emotive tenor. And though over a couple spins the comparison seems less apparent, the styles occasionally still feel similar - especially on the shimmering "Go Easy" and early highlight "Sixes & Sevens." The band borrow from several other sources as well (the U2-esque guitars are mentioned frequently) but they manage to carve out their own niche by expanding their sound and simply trying a variety of approaches ranging from spacey psych-rock ballads to emo-ish rave-ups. As Tall As Lions are at their best when they keep the energy high, like the explosive "In Case of Rapture," which showcases the group's individual instrumental talent and their collective compositional abilities, with Nigro's soaring vocals ably leading the way.

When the pace slows, the results are uneven but at least interesting. The eight-minute centerpiece, "Duermete," drags for too much of its lengthy run time and "Sleepyhead" is pleasant but so subtle it's easy to gloss over, while the more fleshed out cuts like the title track and "The Narrows" are dynamic and gripping even with their more deliberate speed. The former weak moments on You Can't Take It With You aren't so much bad ideas as they sometimes feel just out of the group's grasp, but it's nice to hear a band push themselves even if they occasional stretch themselves too thin. Hopefully they can stick together and take another step or two forward on their next release because they've shown some serious promise here along with the ability to accomplish even greater things. Here's to perseverance.