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Decibully - City of Festivals

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Artist: Decibully

Album: City of Festivals

Label: Polyvinyl

Review date: Dec. 3, 2003

First off, the name’s a lark. Know that first, otherwise suffer the confounding, somewhat unfair disappointment of hearing a clever band name wasted on an incongruous sound. Don’t come in itching for some ass-kicking power moves, sardonic song titles and general smug cleverness…Nope, nobody is being pushed around here.

City of Festivals’ first track, “On the Way To Your Hotel,” is quiet and gentle – if the disappointment is still stinging, you might call it wimpy. But it’s got an easy grace that slowly attracts a diverse group of instruments, all holding hands. By the end, the song has blossomed into wisps of light static noise and an angelic choir, indiscreet and really quite nice.

So, regroup. No fun-loving rock crimes being committed here, only something slowed and sedated with a trace of twang. Now disappointment may linger because the band’s roster also suggests something that’s not here. Decibully is the new venture for members of the Promise Ring and Camden and a veritable busload of other Milwaukee musicians. Seven members in total, credited for more than a dozen different instrumental roles. Lots of chefs, and a packed studio of ingredients, all making what amounts to a pretty simple soup – post- and alt- flavored, with some suspiciously bright carrots that pop up now and then.

Like “Tables Turn”, which directly follows the sleepy small surprise of “On the Way to Your Hotel.” This song is not a cover of a Faith Hill radio ballad, though it might as well be. The lyrics are silly nothings, the verses are barely there next to an insistent catchy chorus, demanding attention with a vague country lilt that won’t settle for anything more or less than a dazed smile. If this sounds unappetizing, know that it is redeemed by a wide instrumental palette (banjo, slide guitar, harmonica, and a few different keyboards), each of which plays a small but confident role in earning the chorus’s sentiment.

Unfortunately from there on out, with few exceptions, City of Festivals is more ponderous than thoughtful. Too often it just sounds like a bunch of people playing whatever instruments happened to be lying around, while the songs lack the spontaneous energy that would make such a dynamic worthwhile. With the delicate mood that Decibully tries to pull, this is the difference between beauty and pastoral mildness. The sparse “Tied to the Rhythm” is the only bare moment that leaves just a guitar and William Seidel’s voice, effeminate with a shy touch of soul, which is quite beautiful throughout the album but rarely emboldened by the band. He nicely carries the simple song, but it’s so slight that it takes a few listens just to notice that it’s there.

The case is not that Decibully lacks its own identity – to be sure, it doesn’t quite sound like anything else in particular. Instead it comes off a bit fetal. Plenty of melodies, talent, and lots of stuff to tap away on, but not enough ideas on how to make it all come together. On “Spiderbites” they even resort to recycling the first promising two songs into a shmaltz that creeps along and strains awkwardly at the chorus. What was pleasant not three tracks before is already unwelcome here.

Maybe if they were a little less polite about it all…rolled up their cardigans, turned their hats sideways, played some pranks on the girls’ soccer team. Well, let’s go, Decibully. Push somebody around, Biff it out. Chicken?

By Greg Bloom

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