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Rob Crow - My Room is a Mess

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Artist: Rob Crow

Album: My Room is a Mess

Label: Absolutely Kosher

Review date: Jul. 30, 2003

A Mess Indeed

On track nine of eighteen, "Kill All the Humans," Rob Crow repeats several times, in an arresting monotone, "I don't want to be a fucking robot." Therein, at least according to my theory, lies the explanation/summary/raison d'être for the many-headed oddity that is My Room is a Mess: lest we think him some kind of crazy songwriting machine which churns out several recordings a year, here is an album (of sorts) of inspired convolution and intricacy which displays the most human of traits: inscrutability and indecision.

See, I consider myself among those people who are fans of Rob Crow. I've enjoyed everything Pinback has ever released immensely; I quite like freaking out to the right Three Mile Pilot song at the right hour of the night; I got nothing against Heavy Vegetable or Thingy or Optiganally Yours or any of his other incarnations/combinations. Not only that, but I have a certain degree of respect for that spark of creative impetus that must be behind his relentlessly prolific back catalog (the sort of respect I think we all feel obligated to have for Robert Pollard simply because he's written one suitcase full of songs for each of our permanent teeth). But for me the love affair ends there, and I don't know anyone whose devotion is much greater than mine. So I will greet something like My Room is a Mess, a thirty-five minute scratchpad with more abandoned ideas than viable songs, with interest and even enthusiasm, but I'm not gonna pretend that it's especially enjoyable.

"Over the Summer," the longest (3:43) and best song on Room, is comparable to an unremarkable Pinback track, with multilayered nasal vocals and a funky rhythm that contrasts a languid stream of faintly dissonant acoustic guitars and fainter static hum. If that's the high end, then the low is Crow's inexplicable forays into foreign territory, namely Har Mar-fare R&B ("Never Alone") or speed metal ("Jedi Outcast"). Everything in between is the same comparatively inoffensive thing – man-and-a-guitar songs, sometimes with more instruments, sometimes lasting longer than a minute and a half, sometimes not – which begins to take on an irritating blandness before ten minutes have elapsed. Every now and then a note of great potential shimmers through, but every time Crow opts to end the song before following through, rendering the haphazardness of the project all the more frustrating.

And length alone can't be to blame here. Some of the best Pinback or Three Mile Pilot songs revolve around a simple theme – they flash a hook or two and you're sold. Not once is that the case on Room; it's not that the songs are deprived of the opportunity to stretch out and expand, it's that they were never endowed with much effort or singularity in the first place. Once again, the semantics of the album title tell more than they should: this is a textbook example of bedroom pop, and Crow's bedroom is certainly a mess. Factor those into the mix and add the nascent Absolutely Kosher label, who don't seem to have any qualms with releasing messes, and you've got this self-indulgent slapdash piece: fascinating in fleeting glimpses, eminently unsatisfying on its own, and about as much fun as cleaning your room.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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