“I could speak . . .” These three words begin “Cease to Begin,” an album that, in Pitchforkese, resounds resplendid with Earth-shattering revelations. Lots of folks will say this is a sell-out record, one that takes everything great from Everything All the Time and tried to repackage and repurpose it, over and over again, in search of commercial success but at the same time never digs deeper into the well. To those naysayers, I say: “Nay.” While it is true their songs have recently appeared in movie trailers and Wal-Mart ads (for shame, BoH!), the band is simply trying to make a living in an industry that no longer rewards breakout successes with large record sales or large record contracts. As fans of the band Jet must surely know, success can be both brief and fleeting, and the price of that can be overexposure. I detest Wal-Mart, and have instructed my children that it is “evil,” but it’s not like the BoH record was recorded and pressed by child laborers . . .
So let’s judge Cease to Begin on its merits, shall we? The lead track, “Is There a Ghost,” is ideal thematically for Ben Bridwell banshee voice, and a perfect way to reintroduce the listener to the band. Soaring and grand, this is simply the perfect indie rock song—it’s almost as if The Beach Boys grew up in a Seattle garage in the 1990s. The second cut, “Ode to LRC,” should have been the single on the spectacularly underwhelming 2007 release by the New Pornographers—crisp, bouncy guitar work and ironic, spunky lyrics, with great vocal work and harmonies. To a lesser extent, you could make the same comment about “Lamb of the Lam.” Bridwell is really stretching his voice on these songs, without the studio effects he seemed to rely on more on their first release.
From there, the album whips through tunes like “No One’s Gonna Love You” (simply awesome) and “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands” (also awesome), and slows down a bit on “The Golden Specific” (if this doesn’t make you want to slow dance, you’re dead from the heart down) and “Detlef Schrempf” (admittedly, this plods a bit—the weakest track here). “Cigarettes” is notable for the twang Bridwell injects—are they trying to sound country?
Throughout, one occassionally misses guitarist Mat Brooke (who fled the Band to join Grand Archives), but the fact that they’ve swelled to a six-piece enables them to bury that loss in the mix with a rich, full, wall of sound somewhat akin to Arcade Fire’s first album. This is a band who has become emboldened by the (deserved) good reviews they got off their first record, and the result is that, unlike many who believe their own press (think: Kanye West), they’ve accomplished that most rare of rarities: A sophomore album that surpasses their first. That’s right: Better. It’s more accessible, more linear, and, frankly, a lot more fun to listen to. There’s a reason Wal-Mart likes it.
Some live versions of songs from this amazing record:
Is There a Ghost?
The General Specific
Ode to the LRC
The Marry Song.
And best of all? It’s just $7.99 on Amazon!