Everything that has been written about Chicago's
Taking Pictures states that this band includes former members
of Hurl, a noteworthy Pittsburgh-based post punk band from the
1990s. Theoretically, this previous association has influenced
Taking Pictures' music, so that in effect you see a linear progression
between the two bands. Unfortunately, I've never really been
into Hurl – not because they were bad or anything, but rather
during their heyday (such as it was), I was engrossed in other
genres of music.
Still, certain members of the EvilSponge team were big Hurl
fans, so when Taking Pictures came to play Atlanta early in
2003, I went along for the ride. This was a good thing, because
I was immediately impressed by the three-piece Taking Pictures.
Building on the strong drumming of Noah Leger and the dueling
guitars/bass of Mat Daly and Matt Jencik, Taking Pictures create
a wintery cold mix of songs. Many people would call this type
of music post-punk due to the slightly off-kilter drumbeat as
well as the way the stringed instruments do not overwhelm the
sound. Instead the guitars and bass provide an alternate counter-melody
to the vocal lines, which are shared by both Daly and Jencik.
In concert, it was a neat thing to hear, and very compelling
in a chilly sort of way.
With that in mind, I purchased their album, Friends Are
Ghosts. Although many of the songs were played in concert,
the arrangements were quite different and less full sounding
on the album. But this wasn't a bad thing or even a disappointment.
Rather, on the album, you can see the original conception of
those live songs recorded as the band envisioned it.
For instance, in concert, I was particularly impressed with
dynamic guitars and dueling vocals on a song called Faces,
Smearing. When I turned to Friends Are Ghosts,
I heard a slightly different version. Instead of highlighting
the slightly gruff vocals of Matt Jencik, this recorded version
is particularly carried by Mat Daly's higher-pitched voice.
However, once this song moves into the instrumental bridge,
I can hear more similarities to the live song. At that point,
Taking Pictures combines all three instruments into a prolonged
breakdown with the melodic bass playing against a lightly jangly,
effects-laden guitar. It's very insular in sound, and really
brings to mind what I think of as the Chicago Sound. In short,
although the afore-mentioned changes make Faces Smearing
different than the live version I remembered, it is by no means
a worse song. Instead, I'll confess I've come to prefer the
wintry starkness of the recorded version.
Other songs on Friends Are Ghosts more closely
replicate what I remember from the live show. For instance,
Hibernation for a Hyper-Nation begins with Leger's driving
drumming which contrasts with the more minimalist guitar work
of Daly. Over this, Matt Jencik sings in a completely different
rhythmic pattern that makes Taking Pictures' music seem like
a fairly complex construction. Similarly, the fast-paced rhythm
of Words Are Like Drums suggest the energy of Taking
Pictures as whole, and give an urgency to their music despite
the slower singing of both Daly and Jencik. Finally, the band's
true post-punk nature comes to the fore-front on That Fight
We Should Have Had We Never Had. For instance, during one
point, the guitar falls to the wayside as the music is completely
taken over by those omni-present drums and driving bass while
Daly sings/screams his lament. Nevertheless, despite the continuing
apparent complexity, once you listen closely to That Fight
We Should Have Had We Never Had, you can hear that the individual
parts remain rather basic. This one song in particular compels
me to dance as the drums beat their head-bobbingly simple rhythm
until the song slows and eventually fades into a transition
into the short, untitled track which ends the album.
In the end, although it doesn't necessarily measure up to the
dynamic quality of their live shows, Friends Are Ghosts
is a strong album nevertheless. Based on some of the other music
I've heard recently, it definitely reflects the Chicago origins
of the band with its angular guitars and intellectually complex
construction of melodies and rhythms. As such, it's an excellent
reflection both of how I perceive the Chicago scene as well
as the inherent talents of the band as a whole.