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Taking Pictures - Friends Are Ghosts

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Artist: Taking Pictures

Album: Friends Are Ghosts

Label: My Pal God

Review date: Mar. 26, 2003

Tension, Release, Repeat

Rejecting the more populist impulses of rock and roll, Chicago’s Taking Pictures opt for a more distanced, serious approach that doesn’t pander to the listener. They aren’t going to make you dance, and they don’t want you to sing along. This isn’t to say that the music they make is unlistenable, or that it’s not well-crafted. But the pandering, bang-a-tambourine, get-on-your-feet element that is rock’s stock in trade is completely absent from TP’s dense, bass-heavy music. Once you adjust yourself to their sound, however, it pays dividends, as its richness and complexity unfolds.

Their sound is, in some ways, fairly standard Touch and Go-influenced post-punk, short on choruses and heavy on atmosphere. Singer Mat Daly has a strong, almost aggressive voice, which battles it out with the roiling bass of Matt Jencik. Songs often build from an insistent drum roll and a looping, thick bass line, creating tension before a short, often beautifully simple release. Indeed, it’s these dynamics that keep the album going, working on its own logic and stamina as it moves to an unknown destination. Many of the tracks are quite long, and refuse to follow more conventional song structures, making the record feel like a bit of a maze on first listen. Gradually, a sense of purpose and direction filters through, and it becomes clear that the band is more interested in the details of travel than in the eventual outcome. At times, Taking Pictures can come off like a mellower Storm and Stress, building layer upon layer of pounded drums and pointy guitar noodling. The guitar is impressively restrained here, its very central role almost going unnoticed for the subtlety of the playing.

Although the music can be incredibly dense at times, it’s combined with an almost jazz sensibility in terms of texture and structure, which leads to forceful, complex music that demands repeated listens. The centerpiece of the record in these terms is “You Serve, You So”, a lengthy, noise-drenched exercise in the creation of tension and gradual, affirming release. On this track in particular, the level of communication and interaction between the players is exceptional, creating a dazzling mix of sounds, rhythms, and emotions, all from the interplay of their instruments. And, although Mat Daly is a fine singer, it’s in these instrumental sections where the band truly distinguishes itself.

This connection, between free-jazz and post-punk, has been explored before, but there is still a great deal of room for invention, and Friends Are Ghosts is ample evidence of that. Apart from certain sounds that reflect a jazz influence, the biggest impact of jazz on the album is in its feel, in its sense of exploration and the conviction in its sense of purpose. If anything, the band could stretch this further, push itself into even more unconventional ground. The mix between song-oriented structures and more free-form elements creates an interesting tension, but it would be interesting to see what the band could do if they really broke down their own boundaries. That said, Friends Are Ghosts is a fine record that demonstrates the band’s ability to find a promising niche within an already-established genre.

By Jason Dungan

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