The Channels’ debut full-length, Waiting for the Next End of the World, is the band’s sparse attempt to tackle the behemoth idea of a pending apocalypse. Due to a lack of original material and a propensity to fling overused clichés, the Channels won’t achieve much distinction among the protest against modern society. Further, the incongruity between the vocals of J. Robbins (he of Jawbox fame) and poppy instrumentals make it an unpleasant listen, regardless of the subject matter.
Five seconds into opener “To the New Mandarins,” Robbins is already screaming about the Patriot Act. In this, possibly the album’s strongest song, Robbins jumps from an Eddie Vedder-esque rant in the first verse to a much poppier tone that dispenses vague references about how “we pin merit badges to these Machiavellians” and “pranking the homeland hotline/ threat level yellow sunshine” and, of course, “mergers and acquisitions/ and murders and executions.” These references could be considered serious if there was a more coherent theme to help such phrases stand up, but it seems Robbins is more interested in shocking and awing, which is indeed a reference he calls out in “New Logo.”
Bassist Janet Morgan’s vocals add a little sunshine to the mixture, which is how these musicians could best use their talents, rather than skimming the surface of vague political rants. In “Lucky Lamb” and “The Licensee,” the Channels seem to gain some momentum with a power-pop package, but again the propensity to harp on politics prevents the songs from being easy to listen to. In “Mayday,” Robbins’s pronunciation of “Mayday, mayday/ but always just a bit too late” seems to describe his own vocals, which often miss the mark of some catchy riffs going on behind him.
There’s never anything wrong with a power-pop outfit championing liberal ideals, but ranting about the president or wars being waged is an unoriginal conversation. With an album title like Waiting for the Next End of the World, it seems the Channels might be having a little fun with the idea. But for the most part, the band’s pseudo-intellectual topics leave this album with a lot to be desired.