Oh, man. We here at The Musicologists are growing steadily. I have this habit of getting ridiculously verbose when it's not needed, so I'm just going to shut up and introduce our newest contributor and my good friend, Mr. Lee Henderson, and his excellent review of:
Say Hi - The Wishes and the Glitch (released February 5, 2008; The Rebel Group)
One of my favorite images of all time is a Shel Silverstein sketch of a man playing a guitar that is also his own face and torso. A guitarotaur, if you will. The cover of Say Hi (formerly Say Hi To Your Mom)’s fifth album, The Wishes and the Glitch, reminds me in a fleeting way of the Silverstein sketch, for it is an illustration of a boxy robot (three boxy robots, actually) opening up its own quadrilateral chest outward, like a refrigerator door, exposing what’s inside.
Say Hi is, according to both the website and Wishes’ liner notes, “a boy named Eric” Elbogen. Eric lives and records in Seattle, and is, ostensibly, the whole band (there are some ancillary background singers), playing all the “guitar, bass, synthesizer, and drum machines… encapsulated on this compact disc, vinyl long player or digital collection.”*
Right away I’m somewhat skeptical, as my personal tastes tend to gravitate less toward the laptop and more toward… well, not new country music, and not the laptop- though I don’t mean to conflate the two. But the opening strains of Northwestern Girls, the first track on Wishes, does much to assuage my worry- there’s an immediacy in those two-and-a-half minutes that grabbed me and pulled me in. The following tracks Shakes Her Shoulders and Toil and Trouble continue piquing my interest, especially Toil, which I can really see delivering live, given of course that it’s performed loud enough. There’s a nice balance of what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, organic tension in the song, and the lyric “sometimes the slow simmers to a boil” contained within- well, syllogistic isn’t exactly the right word, but let’s just say that the line delivers on its promise.
Unfortunately, the wheels more or less come off the wagon for me after that. Back Before We Were Brittle, Oboes Bleat and Triangles Trink, and Magic Beans and Truth Machines are tracks that, for me, don’t really go anywhere but sideways and in circles. And at this point it should be noted that, while I’m sure he hates the comparison, Wishes is more than just a little Postal Service Give Up-esque and Elbogen’s singing voice is, again, more than a little similar to the nerdy romanticism of Ben Gibbard’s**. But Say Hi is no Postal Service, and these three songs prove it.
Bluetime and Spiders get us back on track somewhat, but the damage has been done (though Spiders does contain the best line of the album: “there’s the thing with her father, the thing with me broken, her new jealous ex and the press”). And while there is good imagery like this throughout the album, such lyricism ultimately doesn’t make up for the lack of dynamism or cogency- for the overall lukewarm songwriting- that I feel typifies it.
This is cemented with the last three songs, Zero to Love, Apples For the Innocent, and We Lost the Albatross, songs which all deal with themes of either obtaining or “need(ing) something new.” On the whole I would recommend to Mr. Elbogen to capitalize on what works on this album- the first three songs, specifically- and jettison the rest. In other words, a third of what he’s got works. The other two-thirds need something.
Additionally, I would simply warn him of the risk he takes when opening up, in general, and exposing the elements inside, their inner-workings… I would warn him to think twice next time about the robot on the cover of his record. For when the robot opens up, it reveals itself to be hollow, its contents nothing but cold air. I don’t think Mr. Elbogen wants his art suffering the same criticism.
* That Elbogen is Say Hi’s only decision-maker has lent him the space and freedom to employ some personal touches (like this one) in the album’s layout that I didn’t like, and some that I did: specifically that, though only symbolically, it is broken up into a side A and a side B, a la throwback vinyl record. I wish more artists, when tracking their albums, would factor in this variable.
** And Conor Oberst’s, for that matter. And mine. But, Senator, I am no Jack Kennedy, and I digress.