Overproduction, what a pest. I haven’t been this upset about the too-gooped-up sound of an album since Spiritualized’s glaring career misstep Let it Come Down (2001). But whereas that band, and its predecessor Spacemen 3, always swaggered with a bit of bombast, Hem has succeeded in the past by keeping things simple. The band kept the ingredients to the spare side: quiet guitar lines here, gently brushed drums there. Many of the tracks on Funnel Cloud, though, kick things up a notch, and the results are as annoying as Emeril’s goofy mug.
Lead singer Sally Ellyson’s first line on the album is, “Go easy now,” and thankfully she and the band follow that advice for a while. “We’ll Meet Along the Way” and “He Came to Meet Me” are opposite sides of the same pretty coin, one displaying separation, the other reconnect. “Not California” gets more countrified by adding harmonica and, not keeping with the trend, James Iha, once (and future?) Smashing Pumpkins guitarist. Iha harmonizes nicely with Ellyson on a song that casts California as a lost, longed-for Eden, Ellyson singing about packing up her things, moving away, and then breaking down the boxes. Iha shows up again a few tracks later on “The Pills Stopped Working,” which is much more upbeat and lively than its title might suggest.
And then the strings come in, and all is not well. The opening stirrings of the title track bring to mind a Pocahontas-era Disney flick. Listening to the song, I could envision a wily talking squirrel character (who, over the course of the film, will of course teach human children valuable life lessons) looking up from his nut, taking in the forest scenery around him, as the sunlight sends shafts through the dark green canopy. Not the type of imagery I’ve really been into since my age hit double digits. “Great Houses of New York” and “Curtains” follow the same schlocky suit. This is all thanks to collaborators the Gowanus Radio Orchestra. By the time eleventh track, “The Burnt-Over District,” comes along, I don’t care if I ever hear a hushed, traipsing oboe line ever again. “I’ll Dream of You Tonight” and “Almost Home” wrap up the cartoonish storyline buried under even more layers of orchestration.
The members of Hem should follow Xtina’s lead in whatever music they throw together next: back to basics, ya’ll, back to basics.
Label: http://www.nettwerk.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/hem