In this era of abundant throwback copycatting, it seems like a faux pas to actually cite your influences. Yes, it’s obvious that Liars likes ESG, AREWeapons digs Suicide, and the Ravonettes are into the Jesus and Mary Chain. But don’t publicize it, right? Shroud yourself in just a shred of mystique, right? Well, there it is, right there on Laika’s Web site — Favorite albums of all time: Loveless, Metal BoxFuture Days, and on and on. The gesture feels weirdly congruent with Wherever I Am I Am What Is Missing — ill-conceived, a little clumsy, and hard to take seriously after experiencing it.
I should say right away that Wherever I Am I Am What Is Missing isn’t bad music. It’s a little boring and totally unadventurous, but not so bad in ye olde Portishead sort of way. I should also say that if you’re a creative producer, Laika really, really needs you. Re-reading my notes, I kind of liked almost all the songs at first. Here are some excerpts, verbatim: “First song, ‘Girl Without Hands,’ isn’t bad — very electro-fied, breathy female vocals. Sounds influenced by all the usual suspects — My Bloody Valentine, Lush, ’90s British techno, Tricky, Portishead, et al … Wow, this is totally formulaic.” On “Falling Down,” the second song: “Not bad at first. Kind of like a Can remix. Vocals really lacking in spontaneity.” Later: “This is basically a poor man’s Sade.” Just to bang the point home, my notes on “Leaf by Leaf”: “Cool in a PiL-like way … cheapened by another dull beat and vacant, sentimental lyrics. Could be a nice theme song for ‘The OC,’ though.” (Then I wrote a long note to self about how I should pretend to drift off to sleep as I was writing this, which I actually tried but didn’t turn out as funny as I’d hoped.)
In the hands of a good producer, Laika could be a tolerable, if not pretty good techno-rock band. But this totally unadventurous music seems to mask a fundamental lack of creativity and Margaret Fiedler’s vocals reduce Wherever I Am I Am What Is Missing to very vanilla R&B, or put another way, pomo muzak. The first twenty seconds of nearly every song are promising; a nice drum and bass pairing is introduced, the ethereal sound washes are, well, “atmospheric,” but once Fiedler starts singing tired cliches diva-style and the music does almost nothing more than what it did for the first twenty seconds except dilute it with more electronic washes, the skip button starts looking real tempting.