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Chin Up Chin Up - This Harness Can't Ride Anything

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Artist: Chin Up Chin Up

Album: This Harness Can't Ride Anything

Label: Suicide Squeeze

Review date: Oct. 15, 2006

One wants to come to Chin Up Chin Up as an editor rather than as a listener. The things that make them a provocatively frustrating band and not a great one are ineffable, but decidedly superficial. At heart there is something very right about the 10 songs on This Harness Can't Ride Anything, as there was with the 10 on 2004's better We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers, but a layer or two of unneeded complexity always intervenes, distracts, obscures. The melodies (more listless this time around, but only negligibly) are made to skip, skitter and gyrate when they want just to melodize; the lyrics are dressed up in garish costumes and silly hats (those being delivery and lazy absurdism, respectively); the simple charms of the songs are, finally, all but lost on the beleaguered listener.

Oddly, Harness casts into relief the saving grace of Skyscrapers: that album was shy and sincere in its tendency to over-realize, as though it just wanted so badly to be liked; this one carries itself with much more swagger, and who's ever heard of self-assured overcompensation? With some exceptions ("Blankets Like Beavers" and the title track, for example), these songs aren't particularly denser or busier than their predecessors, but their burbles and whines serve less purpose than before; instead of sounding overzealous, they sound affected, voluminous for volume's sake. Where Jeremy Bolen's lyrics could be disquietingly trenchant on Skyscrapers, now they're mostly kitschy and curiously preoccupied with well-appointed beachfront property. Likewise, his hush-howl, which reaches painful peaks on "Trophies For Hire," sacrifices its subtler emotive qualities for numerous moments of Byrne-lite histrionics.

And still, Chin Up Chin Up's missteps fail to negate their considerable potential, which shines at odd moments here: "I Need A Friend With A Boat" and "Islands Sink" do well to borrow some of Wolf Parade's rowdiness, while late-album neighbors "Landlocked Lifeguards" and "Stolen Mountains" showcase some fairly sublime instrumental sections. All told, Harness is neither light enough to enjoy nor profound enough to intellectualize, but its few blessed moments of simplicity only evoke that the band is capable, at least innately, of far better things.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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