Arts & Crafts, the debut from the Black Neon — or, rather, lone member Stephen Webster — is an exercise in pointlessness. Webster, who boasts on his label’s Web site that he retired from live performance in 2001, does little more than jog my memory of other bands that have done this better before. The album lifts from genres far and wide but falls well short of any cohesion. It’s surprising to find something this bland coming from Memphis Industries, home to Dungen, the Go! Team and the Pipettes.
Opener “Ode to Immer Weider” gives a clear signal that we’re in the hands of an artist willing to borrow (if not outright lift) from various influences. The song is less an ode to legendary Krautrock outfit Harmonium’s “De Luxe (Immer Weider)” than it is a nearly straight-ahead cover. The track is largely extraneous, seemingly added as an extended joke leading into “Ralph & Barbara,” a narrative tale of an idealistic German soldier looking to flee to the Yucatan with his sweetheart. The song is pleasant but weightless melodic rock, with a Wilco feel, minus the lyrical and musical depth.
Elsewhere, Webster affects a gloomy new-wave ‘tude (“Cast That Light”), falsettos an overlong Eagles of Death Metal meets space-rock groove (“The Truth”), pens the worst song Super Furry Animals never wrote (“TX812”), and blatantly lifts Beck (“Shoot Me Into Space”). “The Ghosts” comes closest to highlight-worthiness, beginning with a subdued electronic beat and synth whurping, and it seems to be gathering momentum toward an early-Genesis-style anthem but gets stuck in a rut and then fizzles out. What remains is purposeless psych-pop that’s neither brash enough to be engaging nor suave enough to be hypnotic.
“Hollywood 1, 2 & 3” MP3