5 medium-size strong-hold binder clips out of 10
Please understand my situation here. In need of a job, any job, for this summer, I somehow found myself as an intern at a construction company. Not only an intern, basically an accounting intern. Accounting would probably rank somewhere near the bottom five of any list of my most desired professions. For most of the day, I do things like split up a $4 lunch purchase between three different cost codes and then file it in five different places. Sometimes they let me match the owner’s receipts for stretch limousines to the credit card bill! Anyway, before I offend our numbers-loving reader base, let me get to my point. Anything to pull me from the monotony, like a good record, is manna from heaven. Nonetheless, Life Underwater, the latest release from Halsted, failed to impress even my stimulus-starved senses.
The album opens with a somewhat eerie, wavering synth, which led me to believe that it would be somewhat more experimental. However, my main gripe with the album was that it did not try anything new. Halsted sound like just about any other middle of the road modern rock band whose name you might see in a record store and probably not recognize. Listening to this record actually kept reminding of Jack’s Mannequin, a not-so-special band that some kids you knew were probably into around sixth grade.
On ‘Life Underwater,’ the title track, lead singer Ryan Auffenberg croons over a softly plucked guitar. His voice—which may be better suited to this sort of style—does not fit as well with the more rockin’ sets. Auffenberg, who has garnered some local acclaim for his solo album around California, sounds sort of like a one-man version of Iron & Wine (though he does shout out Missouri on his album, so props). ‘Sellout’ begins with the exact keyboard riff that begins Wilco’s Hummingbird, and the lyrics seem to acknowledge the rip-off: “it’s been said before.” Still, some nicely placed horns carry the song though. ‘Knock on Wood’ is rather cheesy, though it did lead me to remember the classic Mighty Mighty Bosstones tune (in which he never has to knock on wood) and to discover this gem. ‘Toy Soldiers’ falls in the same vein—some sort of attempt at a lament about the past (“hanging on a star/because all your toy soldiers are gone)—and also comes off as starkly unoriginal. Life Underwater is not without its brighter moments. The final track, ‘All You Want,’ was decent, and the musicianship throughout is of good quality, with even a few Americana-style licks thrown in early on the disc. In the end, however, the lyrics and vocals left me hoping for better.
-- Mark Waterman