Love Is All have never been jaded or abrasive enough to lend their moniker much irony, but on their first two albums, they did showcase a rambunctiousness and embrace of dissonance that separated them from the sunnier, softer-rock iterations of the aughts’ big revival of new wave and post-punk. Unlike the many bands whose fondness for angular and distorted guitar lines meant little more than dressing the Beach Boys in tight jeans and messenger bags — consider the imminently hummable, never dark debut albums by the Futureheads, Maximo Park, and the Legends — Love Is All gave us hints of a thicker, more antisocial set of influences. A sense of clamor, led by screeching saxophone, paid at least nominal tribute to more adventurous messes of punk’s wake. There were hints of Pere Ubu, and the punk-funk impresario James Chance.
On their third full-length, Two Thousand and Ten Injuries, Love Is All have turned down the sax, exchanging many of their former bursts of spunk for half an album that’s tighter and more heartbreakingly anthemic, and a remainder that drifts into directionless tedium. Start — because the album does — with the indie rock versions of lighter-waving music: the head-bobbing-means-I’m-moved music. “Less Than Thrilled” is the most U2-esque of the batch — the perfect “Where the Streets Have No Name” for those of us who’d scoff at letting Bono pull at our heartstrings but who still want guitar heroes to turn our yearning into redemption. The distorted cries of lead singer Josephine Olausson and her “ooh-ooh” male backing vocals parade over an atmospheric, twittering lead guitar that the Edge could surely get behind.
It’s the presence of two other influences, however, that marks the album’s first half. Each represents a certain New York indie rock zeitgeist of recent memory — one passed and another passing. First we hear the Strokes (who, incidentally, know a thing or two about how slicking up for Album No. 3 can lead to a front-loaded disappointment). “Bigger Bolder” kicks off on beats one and three with anticipation-building, bass- and drum-driven stomping that wants to be a sped-up, stiffer version of “Last Night.” And the homage doesn’t end there. It continues as the opening of “Repetition” eerily recalls the first lines of “What Ever Happened?”
About 50 seconds into “Repetition,” though, we fast-forward half a decade — from garage rock proper to a more catholic mix with a thin veneer of mysticism and ethnic tourism. A heavily echoed, high-pitched ringing lead takes us on a magic carpet ride out of our Brooklyn basement. “Never Now” gives us more high-end lead, this time emanating from what sounds like a duet between cleanly picked guitar and synthesized pan flute. Throw in backbeat and percussion doubling, garbage can-clacking handclaps — and a little harmonizing — and you can almost picture these Swedes trying on flannel and ganja.
Initially, Two Thousand and Ten Injuries is an oddly successful hodgepodge — touching in its ability to appropriate and assimilate its parts into a whole of energetic heart. By the halfway mark, though, as though winded from doing laps, Love Is All wind up treading water. “False Pretense,” for instance, is a catastrophe of arrested rhythm and wavering out of tune vocal harmonies that resound like nails on a chalkboard. In the past, the five band members have shown themselves capable, with enough rough energy, of turning this sort of flagrantly jarring sound into schizophrenic poetry. Here though, their mess is clearly amiss. Things get no worse, but even less engaging. The (s)lumbering closer, “Take Your Time” — an electronica take on Pachelbel’s Canon, stands for the conspicuous loss of vitality from which the second half of the album suffers, leaving it cemented in the mind when the music stops.
If it’s a step down from Love Is All’s tougher earlier albums, Two Thousand and Ten Injuries is still, at its best, a soundtrack for the twee angst of extended adolescence: it can be as crudely but endearingly ambitious — and ever-potentially nauseating — as perpetual youth. For a moment, our heads are nodding, feet are tapping and hearts are tingling with the ethereal leads — loving and lusting through the awkward experimentation and instant memories of beery Polaroid parties. It’s a shame we can’t keep feeling this childishly alive forever.
By Benjamin Ewing