This spud's a dud: Idaho's latest meanders morosely
Three Sheets to the Wind (Caroline) **1/2
Jeff Martin, the man at the helm of Idaho, has been on the map for just about two years now, and he's already been heaped with the kind of critical accolades that could make even the most unself-conscious musician uneasy. There's always the anxiety that what you produce will be loved by critics and only critics-that despite their good intentions, the music-buying public will never hear you. Usually, this fate befalls those who have enough problems under their belts: the desperate, the morose, the suicidal, the songwriters who are the antitheses of Katrina and the Waves' classic, "Walkin' on Sunshine." The reason is that most people don't want to hear about other people's problems, especially while listening to records. Only whiny music mag writers who have failed in life enjoy that sort of thing.
Idaho's sophomore effort, Three Sheets to the Wind, seems torn between this critic's credo and the temptation to yield to a more accessible pop vocabulary. The result is that Idaho ends up sounding constrained by both. The guitars mostly drone, sometimes drifting into hints of meandering melodies. The band's use of electric four-string tenor guitars lends the album a liquid, trebley feel. The percussion consists mostly of trippy Manchester-style beats slowed down well past adagio tempos. Martin's raspy vocals (reminiscent of Mark Eitzel's tobacco-stained warblings) lift and dip to unexpected notes, mirroring the odd, sometimes atonal, chord progressions.
As a result, Idaho's sound is often peculiarly melancholy. Some songs drag on in this vein for six or seven minutes, like "Stare at the Sky," "No One's Watching," and the opener, "If You Dare." After a while, the formula becomes tired-all ambience, not enough emotion. "Alive Again" and "Glass Bottom" make do without percussion, augmenting their arrangements with piano and strings, respectively. In their starkness, they give free rein to Martin's wandering baritone and evoke a sense of quiet solitude.
Just as often, though, Three Sheets to the Wind tries to inject new life into that formula. "Shame" begins with Martin intoning, "I'll watch this sun go out / I feel the breaks go down," against a bleak backdrop of a few gently strummed electric guitar strings. It sounds like the same nocturnal, college radio-friendly stuff we've heard before until the drums kick into a bouncy pop rhythm, and the guitars launch into an uncharacteristically syncopated jangle; you feel like you've landed mistakenly onto Top-40 territory. Similarly, "Catapult" opens with a sweat-drenched and metallic crunch of distorted guitars that never lets up. The machismo inherent in the music sounds incongruous within the context of the rest of the album. Idaho fails to integrate or subvert the pressures of both critics and the music-buying public while trying to please both. The result is a lackluster and charmless record.
this review is/was online at Yale Herald
and is available here for archival purposes only