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Late Night Television - A Personal Account of How I've Failed at Everything

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Artist: Late Night Television

Album: A Personal Account of How I've Failed at Everything

Label: Route Fourteen

Review date: Jul. 3, 2003

Old Miserable Experience

Let's say, for the sake of argument and allowing for limitless qualifications, that you can experience a rock album on two levels: musically and culturally. If the former category relies solely on your hearing, the latter applies to any and all of the other four senses, from the artist's image to the album's packaging to the smell of their live show (consider what the average Cannibal Corpse or Cypress Hill fan is bound to smell like). Being that your first encounter with a record is usually on the second level, it's tempting to dismiss a band like Late Night Television for their album title alone. But soldier past song titles like "Sometimes I Forget I Hate Myself" and "I Wish This Was Funny" and something strange happens: the music has very little in the way of self-pity. At most, Matt Kelley's lyrics bespeak some sort of wholesome misery, but the rest of the project doesn't follow suit – and this fundamental inconsistency is the album's saving grace.

So on the first and arguably more important level, Personal Account isn't given to the sort of cloying self-loathing and compliment-fishing that abounds on the surface. A good musical comparison to begin with would be Nirvana (bearing in mind that Kurt Cobain wasn't so hot on self-confidence either; see "I Hate Myself and Want to Die"), considering Kelley's husky everyman voice and the band's tendency to use that one grungy distortion effect ad infinitum, but on many songs Late Night Television strike a closer resemblance to more lighthearted predecessors. "Sometimes I Forget I Hate Myself" could easily be Strings-era Superchunk, while "It Makes Sense Perfect" recalls vintage Weezer. Mercifully, there are plenty of extra touches throughout – synth, harmonica, handclaps (handclaps!), the occasional regrettable spoken word interlude, etc. – to compliment the album's noisy dynamic shifts in a generally interesting way.

In all frankness, Personal Account is not a spectacular album, but it's above average, and well above the worthless crap Kelley himself makes it out to be (with the possible exception of the closer "I'm Sorry," in the catharsis of which you feel inclined to accept his apology). It's difficult and ultimately pointless to tell whether Late Night Television lack the heart to follow through on their misery, or whether their feelings are genuine but their method of emotional release is a lot more proactive than that of their eeeemo contemporaries. Either way, it's heartening to see a record like this, poised to be the most insufferable slice of self-pity this side of your garden variety Dashboard/SavesTheDay/NewFoundGlory wannabe, miss the mark so widely. Even if it isn't good for much more than temporary solace, it rocks early and rocks often.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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