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Systems Officer - Systems Officer

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Artist: Systems Officer

Album: Systems Officer

Label: Ace Fu

Review date: Jun. 22, 2004

Systems Officer is the nom de guerre of Armistead Burwell Smith IV, perhaps best known for his work in Pinback, but perhaps also known for his work in Three Mile Pilot. This five-song, self-titled EP, should sound all right to those who are at the least acquainted with Pinback. The signature elements of that band are present on this album: dreamy melodies, easy-listening vocals, and lively bass lines. Indeed, the only thing separating Systems Officer from a Pinback EP is the absence of Rob Crow’s vocal harmonies.

As usual, Smith’s work here relies on the effects of sudden changes in key and tempo, which explains why the hooks in his songs seem to come completely out of left field. This approach has its trade-offs; it’s hard to write a rock anthem when you don’t hold on to a melody or structure for more than a minute at a time, although the second song, “Systems Officer,” sounds like a failed attempt to do just that. On the other hand, the ether of bass, keyboards, acoustic guitar, and multi-tracked vocals that permeates this album ensures that every song has its own good moments, however fleeting.

All in all, that’s a pretty good exchange for the songwriter, especially when one considers what happens when things go well for him. The difference between a good Systems Officer song and a bad Systems Officer song isn’t exactly the difference between a good melody and a bad melody, or sharp lyrics and dull lyrics. (Smith’s alto, it bears noting, erases any edge his lyrics may have had.) Rather, the difference between a good Systems Officer song and a bad Systems Officer song lies in the proper sequencing – the progress from the beautiful part to the unsettling part, and then back and forth once again. The best of these songs, like the opening “Forever This Cyanide,” cobble together a number of strains, like all the best parts of a half-dozen other songs taken at a glance.

By Tom Zimpleman

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