How We Operate is Gomez's first studio offering on the ATO imprint, and it's a (mostly) quiet stunner. Produced by Gil Norton and recorded in London, the album is a deft collection of well-molded pop songs that sound of a piece. They're full of ingenious little hooks, fine singing, poetics and to-the-point lyrics, and cool guitars. After popping this disc into the deck and hitting "play," it may be tempting to do a double-take at the cover for a moment, given the music the band has released in the past. But that sound -- with Tom Gray's evocative voice at the front -- is unmistakable. This is the sound of a band sitting around facing one another and concentrating on writing and executing songs that stand the test of time, using multiple songwriters of equal gift and merit. In five or ten years, How We Operate will not sound any more dated than, say, Ronnie Lane's Anymore for Anymore; in other words, not at all. The world doesn't shatter with this set, the vision of rock's future salvation (a load of crap they were shouldered with by the manic, next-big-thing-of-the-week of Brit music tabloids with their debut Bring It On) from its current dregs -- how else could a record by Wolfmother actually get released and promoted? -- doesn't occur. But what does is that this quintet, who has so gradually come into its own via a stubborn insistence on sticking to its own principles, has grown immeasurably and become a unit of utter confidence and consistent vision that insists on excellence and will settle for nothing less. Gomez's adherence to the principles of good songwriting craft -- melody, harmony, rhythm, and lyrical economy -- serves them, and ultimately the listener, in spades. This is not some weepy, introspective sheaf of tunes that are full of overburdened metaphors stretched to the breaking point. The opener, "Notice," begins quietly and unhurriedly, with an acoustic guitar, a whispering bassline, and a brushed snare, as the vocalist tells an expressionistic story about opportunity, wasted, grasped, reckoned with in both life and love, with lies told, ignored in denial, and forgotten. The electric guitars kick in on the chorus, and the drums begin to pop. The verse is repeated and eventually comes to a ringing series of crescendos that are restrained yet powerful enough to hold the listener in its grip. "See the World" could have been written by R.E.M. before they started bullsh*tting and thinking they were more than they were. One can also hear an optimistic Jay Farrar in here. The bright, down-home acoustic guitars, the "sha-la-la" chorus, the exhortation to go out and get more from life, and the gorgeous meld of electric guitars and backing vocals are simply a joy to listen to. This doesn't mean there aren't rockers here. Far from it. Tracks such as "Hamoa Beach" that start out acoustically develop into sonically overdriven forays into margin-challenging guitar pyrotechnics. "Girlshapedlovedrug" has a hook to die for in its intro, and the volume level continues to rise from there without the harmonically taut, bright, sparkling Ottwell vocals and ramped-up six-strings. "Cry on Demand" has a knotty, angular lyric line, but rounds itself in the rollicking chorus and between verse fills. "Charley Patton Song," doesn't deal with the blues whatsoever, despite its title. Instead, there is an atmospheric, floating, dreamy quality to its sophisticated verse structure that never leaves out the end-of-line hook. There are strange sounds in its background that sound like a cembalom or hammered dulcimer chiming above the rest of the instruments, and a simple organ line that shimmers underneath it all. The bridge changes the nature of the entire track, Gomez pretends to let the tension out of the bag for a short bit and enters into dissonant interplay between drums and detuned guitars. The album almost whispers to a close on "Don't Make Me Laugh," where a gentle country groove unhurriedly glides in and offers the singer a breezy window to observe his unwillingness to compromise himself for another opportunity with a lost love. There are rock overtones that begin to bleed in the instrumental bridge, tension once more rises before being given the air to breathe and float away as the cut comes to a leisurely close amid almost jaunty strings and a slide playing in the high register. How We Operate is strong, focused, and a complete pleasure to engage; its maturity and confidence is beyond anything they've released thus far, and the experimentalism brought into play on their other albums is here, though the textures, tempos, and frameworks are significantly other. Above all, this is most certainly a Gomez record, one they couldn't possibly have created earlier; its maturity and confidence offer a new dimension to a sound that's already full of complexity, paradox, and a pronounced, now intractable, identity.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek