As a reviewer, I get bored with the abundance of quality music that emerges from the depths of the entertainment world. It gets tiring to hear a constant stream of great bands, knowing that I’ll have to say something positive and miss out on any opportunity to exercise my critical wit. So for a change of pace, I decided to review an album I’d never seen before, preparing myself for the slightest possibility of finding an unfamiliar band upon which to throw my potential extreme hatred.
By the time I opened my shiny new self-titled Baskervilles CD, I disappointedly took one look at the imitation-ghetto image on the album’s cover and thought to myself, Dear god, here comes a story about life on the streets. Lo and behold, however, the Baskervilles are not a rap group but a twee-pop band. And heaven knows the music industry hasn’t seen enough twee pop in the last year.
Hailed as one of several American versions of Belle and Sebastian, the Baskervilles (spelled “Baskervils” in its first three years) cap off a decade together as a loose band — loose because of the 1997 lineup change after the departure of founding singer Laura Taylor — with ten tracks that should be as feel-good as the genre they belong to.
Now, it’s not that I enjoy constantly playing the cynic, but when band after band repeats the same musical arrangement in a variety of lyrics and song titles, I can’t help but feel like I’m staring at a cow that’s been shot but is still breathing: Will the cow recover, or should I put an end to its misery and shoot the damn thing?
I hate metaphors, too. The point is that sugary indie-pop began as a luxury and has become a staple in music. It’s the reason “positive, cheerful” music is no longer good because it fills you with emotion or sparks excitement — it’s considered “good” on a mainstream level because it follows the right formula. Call the Baskervilles what you will — the Belle and Sebastian devoid of Scottish accents, a less chipper Mates of State — but although they imitate the usual pleasant but mellow sound of their musical peers, they fail to invoke any sort of feeling with this album.
That’s not to say that the group isn’t entertaining to analyze; the sounds they mimic are from the unlikeliest of predecessors. The mid-’90s-esque “Have You Seen the Ideal?” easily resembles “Girl From Mars,” the Gilmore Girls-friendly hit by British alt-band Ash. The echoed wails in the chorus of “Day One, Amanda Year” imitate those on “Crocodile Rock” much more heavily than anything by the Beach Boys, which many critics have listed as a Baskervilles influence. Baskervilles is not of poor quality; it’s simply predictable and fails to project any sort of genuine joy.
Indie-pop groups in general, regardless of their originality, can produce high-quality sounds that offer their listeners some sort of audible pleasure; the problem is that when a group fails to influence its listeners’ emotions (be it severe depression or some level of bliss), its music is lacking the extra spark it needs to become memorable. The Baskervilles are, by no means, untalented — they simply haven’t figured out what they have to offer.