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(Older reviews archived alphabetically by artist name.)

  The View From Above  
  Color Wall  
  Lazy Susan  
Release Date:
  late 2004/early 2005  
Reviewed by:

Once upon a time, according to their press release, Los Angeles band Color Wall were declared one of the best unsigned bands around. Well, I'm not sure how that worked out, but the upshot is that this band's first full length album, The View From Above, has come out on the band's own label, for what that's worth. And in the reviews I've read, Color Wall gets occasional lumped into the so-called shoegazer revival.

But I'm not hearing it.

Admittedly, back in the more or less "popular" shoegaze days, I was in school and sort of missed out on the bands that Color Wall gets compared to, including The Stone Roses. Yet, I have both My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive in my collection. While I can see how Color Wall may want to be compared to these bands, I think that calling them Shoegazer is just a reviewer's shorthand for "loud with lots of effects". If that's the case, then I think Color Wall certainly qualifies.

Yet, despite these comparisons, it seems that the best of Color Wall's songs have an underlying layer of jangle underneath the distortion and feedback. That's not to say that their noisier songs don't work, it's just that they're neither weird nor catchy enough to sustain prolonged interest in those musical styles. When the band dials it back a bit and you can hear the straight-forward melodies, it seems like there's a good little pop band just waiting to get out. And all the distortion does is make them seem uninteresting.

For instance, My Winger Tee feels fun. While the music does have the layers of guitars, there is a nice pop feel underneath it all. In my mind, I can hear the echo of some mid-90s band like Nada Surf, or perhaps a less literate Weezer. Similarly, Catch Me has a nice edge to it, that sounds like a slower, more methodical version of Sugar's Hoover Dam.

But as nice as those songs are, most of the other music on The View From Above is, quite frankly, trying too hard. Opening song The Weakest is a prime example. It begins with dense guitarwork, which seems heavily distorted, as if it were sent through multiple types of pedals. Over it all, the vocals are also layered with echoed effects. Ultimately, the song seems like it was designed to be played at loud volumes (preferably in an arena), but the swirls of sounds are distracting and a bit overdone. Likewise, I'll Bet could be an appealing, almost Deathray Davies-esque tune, but the effects combine to make the song more cacophonic than catchy. Finally, closing track Restless in 5th Gear feels almost metal in its speed and volume, despite the fact that the vocal line is slower and perhaps should be highlighted more.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this album is that the best song is a cover of Just What I Needed by The Cars. That song is so strongly written that the hard guitars and loud volume can't quite take away from the underlying music. Also, as a side note, this is the one song where vocalist Jeff Burgee (who also produced the album) restrains himself from using excessive vocal layers, so that the music comes through more clearly.

All in all, Color Wall are not a bad band by any means. It's just that The View From Above does not show them off to any real advantage. I suspect, however, that these recordings probably provide a good view, if you will, of their live show, where the tons of effects and volume may be an asset instead of a hindrance.

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