It's difficult to give a CD a fair shake when comparing it to any of the transcendent "pop-era" Brian Eno albums. Making a comparison like that, you run the risk of falling, on one hand, into untenable, press-release style fawning, or on the other hand faulting a solid effort for not living up to the standards of something legendary. That having been said, it's hard not to talk about the impact of Here Come the Warm Jets on Shooting Spires. It comes as no surprise to hear that BJ Warshaw (vocalist and keyboardist of Brooklyn-based Parts and Labor) was listening obsessively to that canonical piece of experimental pop while he concocted his solo project.
Here Come the Warm Jets, Eno's first musical endeavor following his two album tenure as sequin-clad knob-twiddler for Roxy Music, refracts superlatively catchy, simple songs through a variety of complex, cerebral prisms. He applies surges of electronic fuzz to girl-group pop ("Cindy Tells Me"), concocts melodies out of shards of skronking synthesizers (the bridge of "The Paw-Paw Negro Blowtorch"), forwardly imitates the weird aural impact of a record played backwards ("Driving Me Backwards"), and does plenty of other fascinating things on each track, all with an idiosyncratic vocal bombast that makes Bryan Ferry seem subdued. Under the Shooting Spires moniker, Warshaw employs a few of the musical manipulations familiar to fans of this era of Eno. Proceeding from this paradigm, it's natural that the best tracks on Shooting Spires feature pop hooks and crescendos created from, and immersed in, electronic noises that blare, meander and disintegrate.
From the churning stomps and ecstatic, multi-layered fuzz of "Right" and "Quarantine" to the tenuously held together chaos of "Anachronism,” Warshaw shows a talent for creating and preserving memorable melodies while intentionally tearing them apart. His earnest, slightly-processed Bowie-esque vocal style seems to contrast with his extreme beardedness, but it works well within the context of Shooting Spires' squealing, electronically augmented soup. Quite a few of the tracks on the disc share an obvious starting point with Parts and Labors' characteristic gallops, but on occasion Shooting Spires brings more divergent genres under its lens of experimentation. The airy "Alive and Well" has the feel of a late-’80s Peter Gabriel track reconstituted out of blares and echoes. "Silent Alarms" is a near-knockoff of Elton Motello's "Jet Boy Jet Girl" (or Plastic Bertrand's “Ca Plane Pour Moi,” since they’re basically the same song) sung similarly but squelchy, conceived through Shooting Spires’ Enossified filter.
It’s unfortunate that Shooting Spires finishes out with “At Last at Least,” a tinny acoustico-electric dénouement that aspires to the glam-ballad bombast of "Rock and Roll Suicide,” but finds the vocalist emerging from beyond the static only to sound a little like Axl Rose. Outside of that track, though, the disc is strikingly consistent. The temptation remains to criticize Shooting Spires by comparing it to that perfect, ingenious slab of experimental pop that acts as prime influence, to criticize the vocals for being more textural and less outlandishly in-your-face, the lyrics for being conventional in their attempts at obscurity rather than skirting the line between profound and playfully non sequitur. But Shooting Spires is its own disc, and by that standard, it’s a great solo debut. It shows Warshaw to have an ear for creating melodies with almost religious resonance, and a mind for maintaining them as he shreds their fundamental structure and plays with their decay.