Engine 88


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On the one hand, Snowman is an entertaining enough indie rock album with some smart, entertaining variations on an over determined norm here and there. On the other hand, it's not much more than that -- one gets the uncomfortable feeling that this is the type of album adhered to by people who are convinced that indie rock holds an intrinsic superiority rather than basing an opinion on the album's own merits. Derivative as it is, Snowman remains a pleasant listen, helped immensely by the excellent production and mixing skills of Tim O'Heir, who delivers another crackerjack job behind the boards. The band's own arrangements betray their in-depth listening of everything from Pixies start-stop insanity to chugging but sharp grunge rock ("Stairway" isn't all that far from Pearl Jam musically, if a bit spikier around the corners). There's even a hint of Cocteau Twins art-chime on "Cold Blooded." It's all nicely pureed and served up with a smile, while the arrangements benefit from O'Heir's technical skill; everything sounds strong track for track. Barnes' singing actually takes precedence as the band's most distinct quality -- he's not a truly unique voice, but definitely a cut above the norm, with a slightly mournful catch in his passionate singing that balances out any implicit bombast. Quirky lines like "I wore dresses in my school/from Nairobi" perhaps explain the occasional Pavement comparisons, but nothing sounds particularly like irony for irony's sake. He and Wood make a fine guitar team as well, serving up catchy riffs and quick, non-wank-heavy instrumental blasts. The intense build of tracks like "Curious," with pile-driving tension climaxing in surprisingly warm, winning choruses, show the two at their best, while the Knight/Hawkins rhythm combination has its moments as well. Compared to the abilities of a band like the Dismemberment Plan, though, and Engine 88's limitations become apparent. Still, there are far worse ways to kill some time.

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