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scene

‘The Both’ Embarrassingly Bad

| Tuesday, April 15, 2014

WEB_Banner_TheBothEmily Hoffmann | The Observer

0/5 Shamrocks

Most of the time, conversations about music are great. You chat up some dude or dudette about some recent record, sharing some thoughts on this or that track, ripping through an air guitar solos and saying “Yes!” emphatically. But sometimes, something really awkward happens. Your friend asks you excitedly, “Have you listened to The Both?”

You have. You try to smile while you say, “Yeah!”

Then you try to think of something to say back to your friend. Surely there’s something you can say nice about the self-titled record, a collaboration between veteran musicians Aimee Man and Ted Leo. You remember there was a song called “Hummingbird.” You remember that the cover looks like Ken and Barbie meets “Pan’s Labyrinth.” And of course, you remember turning the record off during the middle of the third song because there was just no reason to stick around.

“I’ll have to listen to them again, I was in a bad mood when I listened to them the first time,” you say to your half-frowning friend.

You lied about the bad mood. You remember the record being kind of bad and turning it off. But your friend is usually spot-on about music, so you run on home, load up Spotify and pray for a change of heart.

The song “The Gambler” greets your ears with a rather unspectacular guitar riff. Then come some generic rock drums and a bluesy bass with super-flat production. Surely, the song’s about to get better, you think. Surely, something’s going to happen. I mean, this song’s called “The Gambler,” right? The Both have to take some sort of risk here — present something sort of exciting, right?

No dice. The male/female vocals, which essentially sound like the guy from Barenaked Ladies taking himself too seriously and a generic southern-belle American Idol contestant who is portrayed as some strong independent woman but really isn’t, carve out a vague narrative about some dude who doesn’t want his partner unlocking the door to his room after knocking.

This unexciting story is made even less engaging by the vocal delivery; there’s less feeling in these singers’ voices than Davy Jones’ peg leg. The lyrics themselves aren’t good either — the song uninterestingly climaxes with “I don’t want you to have my key anymore.” There’s something about “a cold Eastern morning” — who knows what that’s supposed to mean.

“Milwaukee” is slightly better, but not by much. It has some nicer harmonies and its generic song structure is hidden by more-layered production. But nothing can save a song with a geeky, humorless, non-evocative chorus like “It’s a nucleus burning inside of a cell.”

At least The Both are consistent. The rest of the album boasts signature generic rock instrumentation, generic vocals and embarrassing lyrics. If anything, The Both’s debut is a cohesive slice of pop-rock music with the remarkable property of not warranting further description. If this album was designed to punish musical hipsters by tricking them into listening to this pile of blah, then perhaps it deserves a star.

But I doubt it.

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  • ScottM

    As a bass player of 27 years working in many genres of music, I’m more inclined to treat songs as an experience being shared by the creator(s), and am not focused on image stereotypes, trends or comparing apples and oranges (I don’t like Band A because it doesn’t sound enough like Band B).

    I have enjoyed The Both from the moment I read about them, saw a show on YouTube and bought the album. Much like their individual work (and Paul Bryan’s), I find their music to be the kind that I can listen to on a regular basis.

    I regret to see the author having such a negative reaction to the music. Everyone has their own tastes, but when it comes to written reviews here I suppose that certain albums should be avoided (such as Frank Black & The Catholics debut album being recorded completely live in 2 track to “share the pure experience of the band”) for similar reasons?