In 2001, Preston School of Industry frontman Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg claimed that his debut from that year, All This Sounds Gas, contained rejected songs from (his former band) Pavement’s 1999 release, Terror Twilight. Matador Records’ review of PSOI’s sophomore effort, Monsoon, called Kannberg an “underrated Bay Area legend.” Pairing the two concepts together into a single musical equation, I concluded that Kannberg is neither underrated nor overrated (the latter is logical, given the lack of press he received with former band mate Stephen Malkmus constantly in the spotlight), but that he is simply rated.
Preston School of Industry suffers from the same condition that a number of generic alternative-folk bands do. Many create pleasant, even agreeable songs; albums that are appropriate to listen to while driving down the coast or staring blankly at a computer; and songs that are catchy enough to appeal to the mainstream listener, who will sing along and perhaps do a bit of head-bobbing in proper concertgoer fashion. The problem, though, with bands like Preston School of Industry is that they sound incredibly comfortable — they don’t appear to take any risks with the music itself. Risk doesn’t necessarily have to entail bizarre artsy sound effects or a unique vocalist, but many a singer/songwriter, or even a basic indie-rock band, have offered memorable contributions to the music world by exploring new sounds.
So what’s the problem with Monsoon, exactly? There’s nothing behind it. It’s impossible to listen to this and be mesmerized by Kannberg’s effortless voice, which lets out nearly invisible lyrics. There’s nothing to imagine while listening to Monsoon — it’s a perfectly fine alt-country-folk album that’s perfectly fine for lounging on a front porch during a perfectly fine summertime romp in the country. But by no means does it inspire, excite, or stick in the mind. The album contains two memorable tracks: “Caught in the Rain,” a radio-friendly acoustic number with a strangely adorable hook and slight twang, and the closer “Tone it Down,” a sweet and simple acoustic piece whose amateur-sounding vocal accompaniment takes away from what it could be.
I may not have the work ethic of Michael Jackson (preceding his love of children, mind you), but my expectations don’t leave me room to believe in potential when it comes to established bands. You can’t expect a band to be perfectly polished upon first release, but this is the second album from Preston School of Industry. And Monsoon is simple, yet disappointingly so.