Menu | Rating System | Guest Book
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
(Older reviews archived alphabetically by artist name.)

  Knitting Needles and Bicycle Bells  
  Tenement Halls  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:

In my not so humble opinion, Chris Lopez, who you may remember from such bands as Seersucker and The Rock*a*Teens, is an extraordinary songwriter. After The Rock*a*Teens disbanded at the end of 2002, Lopez ostensibly vanished from the musical scene. But now he has a new band, Tenement Halls, and a new album, Knitting Needles & Bicycle Bells, released on Merge Records. Although there are a few problems with this record, it still stands as a tribute to Lopez's talent.

The album begins with Silver From the Silt, a slow-ish tune which features Lopez's distinct guitar playing underlaid by a wall of sound. There is little reverb, but rather a higher-pitched tremolo over all of the music. In front of this Lopez sings in his usual hoarse tone. Although the song is fun, it has certain qualities which are in evidence throughout the recording. Of note is the fact that Lopez plays almost all of the instruments, and performs all of the backing vocals. This makes the records feel at times both claustrophobic and slow. In particular, Lopez is a perfectly competent drummer, but he doesn't hit hard or play too fast, which can make the music seem a bit too deliberate.

Up & Over the Turnstiles continues in this vein, with the guitar and vocals way in front of the secondary bass and cymbal heavy drumming. On this one, the bass would be served better by being up front, and yet it's a pretty song as Lopez almost croons his way through a melancholy tune. Yet, musically, the chorus features a bassline which mirrors the vocal, almost to emphasize the sadness which underlays the song. Very lovely stuff

As Long as It Takes begins with an echoey keyboard bit which harkens back to the later Rock*a*Teens' recordings. Between this and the vaguely yelled, emphatic chorus, this song seems to look backwards instead of forwards. Yet it features a lovely keyboard solo in the middle, backed by the martial jangle of the other instruments. Furthermore, unlike the early two songs, this song has an optimistic and happy feel, which makes it an excellent prelude to the best song on the album, Charlemagne. Charlemagne has a different sound and echo, with an almost Dear Prudence like intro, which leads into the positively chipper, "Charlemagne, you're just the same as you were when you went away." Adding this to a bouncy chorus of "So glad to have you back / It's been so drab without my little heart attack.", this song induces me to dance around the house and sing along with the band. It's a utterly compelling, upbeat pop song that ends too soon at just over 3 minutes.

From there it's back to the slowish, almost dragging Now She Knows. Having seen the full Tenement Halls band play this song live, I suspect that the deliberate pacing of this 6/8 tune is due to the lack of other musicians to push Lopez along. Nevertheless, it's not a bad song, although the recording makes it feel a bit dreary. Of course, some of this may be due to the comparison to the next song, Plenty is Never Enough. Featuring a somewhat rambunctious drum line, courtesy of guest musician Ballard Lesemann (the former drummer of The Rock*a*Teens), this tune is propelled along by Lopez's rockabilly style guitar jangle. Bouncy and cheery, the songs has a lightness that's much appreciated and opens up the album beyond its occasionally insular tendencies.

The happiness of Plenty is Never Enough is broken by Marry Me, which features an isolated darkness that is enhanced by a vaguely minor key melody, accompanied by some tom heavy drumming and a thudding bass. Things improve with My Wicked Wicked Ways, which has the soaring swaying rhythm that is reminiscent of early Rock*a*Teens recordings. On this song, Lopez is joined by Will Fratesi on drums. In some ways, this song represents the direction of Tenement Halls in their live performances, if only because Fratesi is Tenement Halls' live drummer. Likewise, on this song, the recording is mostly clear, with instruments distinct in the mix, while still not overwhelming Lopez's always interesting vocals.

The next song, Starless Night, combines minor keyed melodies with the bouncing drums of Plenty is Never Enough and the central keyboard melody of As Long As It Takes. Interestingly, Lopez sings in a lower growl outside of his normal range. Likewise, When the Swifts Come Home has much melodically in common with Now She Knows, albeit with a faster speed and a less echoed keyboard part. In contrast with the earlier song, this one is more delicate sounding, and shows off Lopez's always strong songwriting skills. In particular, The melody moves itself through a natural, yet still inventive, chord structure.

The album ends with Promise & Place, an almost acoustic tune which features the return on Lesemann on drums. One it hit hits stride, it's becomes a fairly straight up rock tune that is instrumentally restrained, except on that afore-mentioned drumming. It's a nice song that ends the album on a strong and different note, which perhaps also points towards the future direction of the band.

As I read over this review, it sounds like I didn't enjoy Knitting Halls & Bicycle Bells. That's actually not true. Most of the songs are instantly memorable, and have a nasty habit of getting stuck in my brain for days on end. My issue (such as it is) is with the recording itself. The strongest tunes here (outside of Charlemagne) are the ones in which Lopez allowed others to contribute; this appears to suggest that Lopez is someone who needs a fully talented and creative band behind him to lighten the tone and open up the music. Nevertheless, as I said at the beginning, Chris Lopez remains an extraordinary songwriter, with an instinctive feel for melody and words that is infectious and interesting.

Related Links:

The Rock*a*Teens evaluated discography.
There are many Rock*a*teens reviews on EvilSponge, but here is an importnat one: their final live show on Tue.31.Dec.02.


Return to the top of this page. | Return to the Album Review menu.