Based on the rapid rate that bands in the 2000s recycled the sounds from previous decades, such as '70s post-punk and '80s new wave, a revival of early-'90s grunge and alt-rock was due right around 2007. Enter Pagoda, the project of actor/musician Michael Pitt, who played a tortured, suicidal rock star in Gus Van Sant's Last Days, which was inspired by the tortured, suicidal rock star, Kurt Cobain. While it's too easy to draw a parallel between Pitt's and Cobain's music just because Pitt played a Cobain-like figure -- and too convenient to dismiss Pagoda as an actor's musical vanity project -- it's hard to deny that Nirvana are a major inspiration on Pagoda's self-titled debut album. Pagoda are more experimental and expansive than the definitive grunge band's work (with the exception of "Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip"), but Pitt's nasal, raspy vocals and the lunging chord changes that dominate the album feel directly descended from Cobain and company. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but large stretches of Pagoda just don't work. Too much of the album spends a lot of time doing very little with the band's sound, and rambling tracks like "Botus" and "Voices" (a predictably angsty song with lyrics like "It's the voices inside/Which is mine") prove it's possible for songs to be choppy and meandering at the same time. "Amego"'s stereo screams are vivid, but the snippets of talk radio discussion about immigration and 9/11 that close out the track are more contrived than effective. The sludgy, sleazy song that closes the album, "I Do," seems promising at first, with creepy backing vocals by kids that suggest the band doesn't take itself too seriously, but the hidden track of squalling cellos and spoken word ramblings that follows it undermines that feeling. However, when they pull their sound into focus, Pagoda have potential. "Lesson Learned" and "Sadartha" have a visceral pull despite Pitt's occasionally grating vocals, and the cellos on these tracks add depth. The ballad "Death to Birth" (which appeared in Last Days) is a highlight, as is "Alone," which takes the band's brooding in a heavier direction. "Fetus"' looping song structure and tempo shifts and the noise rock collage of "Fear Cloud" hint that Pitt and crew might have more ideas than the rest of this album displays, but they need more development.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares