Monday, March 24, 2008

On/Off: Switches' Lay Down The Law

This review appears in Wireless Bollinger.

Switches are essentially temporary house guests. They arrive with gusto, plonking down their gear with an audible thud. For a bit, they’re a welcome distraction, spouting easy cadence that causes the host to nod along. Eventually, they wear out their welcome, entering a tiresome romantic phase where they dwell unnecessarily on past relationships, with just a tad too much sentimentalism. Thankfully, they redeem themselves somewhat in the final act, exiting with enthusiasm, promising to return as soon as possible – with another album.

The British quartet doesn’t stand out from the chronically over-brimming indie rock scene, but they aren’t a bad concoction of the upsides that make the genre so ubiquitous. Angular guitars, crunchy beats and decent singing from Matty Bishop are all fine, but there are only so many iterations on this theme. The first few tracks kick proceedings off nicely, but the middle of the album doesn’t quite sustain the momentum.

The band can be credited with mixing it up at the halfway mark of the album, but the results are just that: mixed. ‘"The Need to be Needed" forgoes the trusty rocker for the band’s attempt at mid-tempo balladry, but Bishop’s croon (and airy backup chorus) feels jarringly out of place. Follow-up track "Message for Yuz" returns to the band’s usual style, although there are moments that sound very much like an Arctic Monkeys homage.

And such a comparison, while perhaps geographically convenient, begs a question: when was the last time everyone got all excited over an Anglo indie rock album? Arctic Monkeys’ debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, was probably the last, most memorable case of wild, coast-hopping success of an underdog (Radiohead have graduated past such a distinction). More recent British exports have been more in the vein of the female singer who’s either troubled, snarky or both.

It should be noted that Lay Down The Law was originally released in the U.K. almost a year ago under a different name, making any attempt to pinpoint a trend somewhat anachronistic. But even if it doesn’t seem tied to a particularly scene, there isn’t that much that hasn’t been played or heard before. Switches lack the idiosyncrasies that have benefited some of their peers, so there isn’t that much of a hook to this album.

Still, for a four minute stretch towards the end, they do offer a glimpse of potential. "Killer Karma," sits at track 10 of 11 but really should conclude the album. It has a rousing chorus, with beefy guitar riffs and borderline sing-along vocals that occasionally give way to handclaps. Alas, the somewhat abrasive "Testify" cuts in at the end, and the final impression is moderate at best.


MP3: Switches - Drama Queen
MP3: Switches - Killer Karma
MySpace: Switches
Official Site: Switches

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