On good authority I have been related a puzzling notion. Somewhere in Minnesota there is a three-piece rock band incapable of disavowing their simple pop sensibilities despite the rushing fury of the modern world. You initially think that this might be a trick, because you’re a purveyor of many critical outlets. The same critical outlets that claim that no one makes or listens to this type of thing. That everyone is listening to dance-punk now. That everyone is listening to hip-hop now. That everyone is listening to apocalyptic post-rock now. That everyone is listening to Radiohead now …
But unknowingly the band perseveres. They appear in every ice-cream parlor and pizza joint across the Midwest to throngs of adoring teens. They infuse a slightly abrasive guitar into a few songs to appease the rockers. But most of all they keep it straight and simple: relishing every picked guitar arpeggio, every predictable “thud-thud-tap,” and every sing-along chorus.
As you may well have guessed, the Slats are this band.
Primary vocalist/songwriter Brian Cox has been honing his craft through revolving lineups, and although this is the band’s fourth LP, it’s the first time the group has spent time in a studio. The session produced thirteen intriguingly mediocre songs and two brief “soundscapes” that bookend the album, these perhaps responsible for their confusing billing as art-rockers. The poppy dual-guitar rockers they create are pleasant enough but no one element or song really stands out. To prove this point I will examine … umm … one song.
On the failed ballad “Ice Queen,” the group’s limitations glare. Like your college buddy whose penchant for picking up an acoustic guitar to bust out Elliott Smith lyrics makes you cringe, you want to tell the Slats to stop, but you just can’t seem to do it. I mean, the vocals aren’t that bad and the playing isn’t that poor, but the song’s lack of personality keeps you from enjoying anything. A line like, “I’m slow to change/ but when I move through your valley/ you’ll never be the same,” is so basely quotidian that it detracts from any positive qualities of the music. Like the album whole, it simply inspires indifference.