Featuring 3/4 of Pittsburgh's mid-'90s noisemakers Hurl, the 2002 debut record by Taking Pictures seems to pick up very near where that group left off. Specializing in sprawling, math-rock flavored epics constructed of layers of dissonance, brief calm, and ultimately post-rock, spazz-out sessions, Taking Pictures are too thoughtful and practiced to ever be confused with punk rock, but confrontational enough to shake the tepid emo tag. Instead, the group exists in the same experimental, so-called "post-rock" universe that has spawned the likes of the Dismemberment Plan, Kerosene 454, and Modest Mouse.
Driven by angular guitar work that alternates between working with, and battling against, the complex start/stop time signatures dished out by the rhythm section, Taking Pictures seems to draw greatly from its members' varied musical backgrounds, with players having served in outfits as varied as Don Caballero, Milemarker, Thee Speaking Canaries, Paul Newman, and the Karl Hendricks Rock Band. The vocal interplay and musical one-upmanship of guitarist/vocalist Mat Daly and bassist/vocalist Matt Jencik call to mind the spirit and sound of DC's Jawbox. However, whereas this young outfit has captured the superficial disaffection of J. Robbins' vocal style (itself a seeming tribute to Husker Du's Bob Mould), they have yet to truly tap into the passion behind it, and the result feels a bit empty at times. The group's angularity and discord rarely find their contrasting melody, and often fail to achieve the truly magnificent dynamic sense the group is striving for as a result. Things do come together nicely on several occasions though, most notably on "Eighteen Questions," wherein the group takes the time to build up a sense of tension before exploding into a full-force climax of escalating guitars and vocals.
Friends are Ghosts is a solid freshman effort by any standard, but with the members' pedigrees it's hard not to have even higher expectations for Taking Pictures. If Taking Pictures can top this album with a follow-up, they'll truly be a force to be reckoned with.