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Artist: Voxtrot

Album: Voxtrot

Label: Beggars Banquet

Review date: Jun. 6, 2007


Voxtrot's long-deferred debut LP seems, at first, to be a completely risk-free affair. It is a consummately polite album, which is not to say staid or effete: it simply draws a very tidy perimeter and stays happily inside, exploring and occasionally refining the sweeter customs of fidgety, collegiate indie pop. These songs jangle and swell, tiptoe and pussyfoot, and never venture anything out of the ordinary and so much the better. Voxtrot hew to the genre standards to consistently pleasing, if never thrilling, effect. Charming bits of midtempo opulence abound, from the frosty "Introduction" to the wishy-washy "Ghost," both of which use strings marvelously on top of their dappled guitar parts. Ramesh Srivastava's keening voice and sentimental lyrics are perfectly fluffy, perfectly par-for-the-course.

If anything, you realize toward the end of the record, the risk is that: Voxtrot dare to be predictable, maudlin and sappy and sometimes overly ornate, without heed for the fashionable skew or programmatic irony of most of their contemporaries (what kind of hat is Colin Meloy wearing now?). This is particularly evident in the lyrics, which are often embarrassingly elementary: you rhymes with me; someone's sun sets when the narrator's sun starts to shine; he's not afraid of life, he's afraid of death. Both "I love you" and "I hate you" are cooed more than once in total earnest, and when was the last time you heard that? There is something satisfying here in what could well be regrettably conventional, either thanks to the band's prowess for melodic arrangement or because everybody else has focused so intently on sidestepping the standard.

In a few places, where the songwriting gestures toward tension the insistent "Firecracker" or the worked-up "Kid Gloves" Voxtrot's orthodoxy comes across as a deficiency. It's ferocity and bile that such songs need, and that's what this album has done away with, especially compared to the Smithsier romps of the band's earlier EPs. Both are fine melodic specimens, but their restless energy stalls because the band is stuck in polite mode they're a little too soft or too slow, the urgency seems by rote, and Srivastava's wholesome yowlings make the anger hardly believable (his "Cheer me up, cheer me up, I'm a miserable fuck" is either the exception or the prime example, it's hard to tell). In any case, the deliberate sweetness of the rest of the record is enough to hope Voxtrot are bottling up something volatile that will explode a bit next time around.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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