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Prosaics - Aghast Agape

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Artist: Prosaics

Album: Aghast Agape

Label: Matador

Review date: Jan. 5, 2005

Before their music can even begin to be seriously considered, NYC art-school rockers Prosaics need to break up and reform under a new name, preferably with their own sound. The band’s shameless copping of Interpol’s patented Enigmatic Urban Mystery begs comparison to the previous decade, when a snot-nosed group of hacks called Stone Temple Pilots emerged from the pop-culture scuzz pond to claim their title as the “Grunge Monkees.” While STP were fun for gas-huffers and teenyboppers, most reasonable folks scoffed and moved on. Like their shameless predecessors, Prosaics lack even a shred of discernable individuality. Instrumentally competent but hardly compelling, these 80s-inspired melodists don't land a single blow in the course of their five-song debut Aghast Agape.

Signed to Matador and produced by the talented (and nice) Peter Katis, you can nevertheless set your watch by this stuff. Disaffected bohemian lyrics offer vacuous stylisms, the kind of ruminations young fashionista chicks must find irresistibly deep. Lines such as Seven scrolls baring teeth / Insult and injury / cipher above / which an ecumenical pose is struck could win Prosaics a prize for cryptic pretentiousness. As a matter of fact, there should be an awards show to honor the world’s hip obscurantists, with categories like Best Use of Quasi-Religious Power Words in a Three-Minute Post-Punk Anthem, and Dimmest Lighting on Sexually Provocative Album Cover. But I digress.

Amidst all of the “make ’em sound like that other band” production decisions, there remains one interesting textural choice. Perhaps a last-minute attempt to rescue Prosaics from sounding too much like Interpol, the bass guitar has been all but removed from the mix. What’s left are jagged “nee-nee-nee-nee” guitars and an occasional atmospheric web of analog echo. That’s just enough of a framework to support the Heavy Prose of front man Andy Comer, and the lad really pushes to get his bleak visions across. Unfortunately he lacks the charisma needed to ignite a real teenage riot. Missing ingredient #1: Smoldering, arrogant sexuality. Missing ingredient #2: Danger. Missing ingredient #3: Fun.

The closest Prosaics come to anything memorable occurs on the track “Failure.” On this cut, Comer’s melodies are loosed from the straightjacket of over-rehearsed miserablism, and a dash of spirit is squeezed from his desperate schoolboy croon. I think I may have even hummed along once or twice. Still, it’s not exactly distinct.

It helps to remember that before Robert Smith bought into his own hype, he was really just a goofy-nancy boy with bipolar disorder – that’s what made him fun, dammit. Smith was utterly un-self-conscious even while in the throes of clinical depression. Not the case here. Comer has neither the depth of artistic character or the bug-eyed innocence to craft a lasting document. Best to go back to the woodshed.

Despite an admitted love for gloomy English rock, I can’t find a single reason to recommend it to anyone. Matador should take a tip from Sub Pop and start signing groups without dwelling on past successes. I mean, did Sub Pop sign a thousand Shins clones after that band broke through? Hell no, they learned their lesson back in the Grunge Years. Sure, they'll suck up just about any underground act that shows even the faintest signs of life, and good for them – out of two kinds of opportunism, only one seems to be working.

Through their preening, contrived manner, Prosaics reveal more about the business of marketing than they ever do about themselves. Aghast Agape should’ve been left for the majors.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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