Christmas presents from extended family are always an interesting amalgamation of things you'll never use, things that don't stand a chance of fitting you any time in the next five years, and things you just plain can't believe exist. So when you are lucky enough (and trust me, it's always blind luck) to score a winner, it's only natural to give praise where praise is due. When I was eighth grade, my Aunt Becky got me a pretty boss looking sweater. Yeah yeah, I know: sweaters are pretty standard fare when it comes to the aunt-to-nephew line of holiday gift giving, but this one was just working. I looked fucking good. The sleeves were big enough that I nearly tripped over them, it was baggy enough to ride low over my 40-inch JNCO's, and, according to my mom, it "matched" my Airwalks. Nice.
So when Becky called to say Merry Christmas (read: to get her "thank yous"), I let her know she'd really knocked one out of the park there. She was happy, I was happy, something about Jesus being born or rising from somewhere -- we all ate cookies. Good Christmas. When next Christmas rolled around, I actually sought out Becky's gift amongst the others (big Irish-Catholic family, lots of aunts and uncles. Nice at Christmas, unfortunate at Thanksgiving). I tore off the wrapping paper to find ... the same sweater. In a different color.
And this continued for what I would estimate to be the duration of high school. I guess it could've been worse ... probably could've been better. It was like unflavored oatmeal.
San Francisco's Erase Errata put out a great debut record a couple years back. It was a little off-kilter in a wonderful way, an "experimental" record that was still approachable (danceable even), and everyone got super-psyched on the all-girl band from the Bay Area breathing life into this horribly run-into-the-ground post-punk thing. And now, they've released the follow-up, At Crystal Palace. And it too is pretty great. In a very similar way.
It's an interesting phenomenon: so many sophomore albums have been called "disappointments" when they try to push the boundaries a bit (see my jerk-ass review of the new Denali record [which I stand by, by the way]). But what are we supposed to say when a band just puts out another really similar but strong record? Is that OK? Can I get the same sweater in a different color every Christmas?
Working off the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra, At Crystal Palace is dance music for kids with epilepsy. The ladies offer up bass-driven, spastic discopunk/dancepunk/whateverthefuck. The songs are jerky outbursts of angular guitars, start/stop drums, and the kind of stand-offish, stunted vocal delivery that has become the trademark of this sort of thing. Naturally, other bands come to mind: The Au Pairs, Gang of Four because of the guitars, the Slits because, honestly, they're girls -- you know this drill.
But what really comes to the forefront of the mind quickest is Other Animals, Erase Errata's 2001 Troubleman debut. There are great songs on At Crystal Palace: "Suprize, It's Easter," a bass-anchored bouncy number that disintegrates into an unshakeable refrain faded out over what sounds like backwards drum loop of some kind; the almost painfully wonderful "Harvester" and it's obnoxious guitars; and "The White Horse is Bucking," a frantic track that shows how Jenny Hoyston's vocals can salvage overly repetitious guitar work. Overall it's a very steady, overwhelmingly solid album.
As a result of this steadiness, At Crystal Palace actually comes off a little less urgent, a little more planned. And that might just be the thing there: it's not that second albums (or third or seventh for that matter) can't be similar to their predecessors, it's that they can't be too easy, they can't be too safe. If you put out a killer first record and want to work off that, by all means please do. Just don't follow its track list like a blueprint. Erase Errata narrowly avoids that here, and fortunately for them (and us) said first album happens to be pretty awesome. Nonetheless, this record leaves no doubts about the talent of Erase Errata. Here's to hoping the next record stretches those creative muscles a touch more.
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