Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Check This! - Wallscenery Demos

Check This!

Wallscenery Demos

SCQ Rating: 69%

Check This!, like a shout you hear right before something drunken and disastrous happens, is an apt title for James Hicken’s sophomore release as Wallscenery Demos. A twenty-three track opus alternating between unhinged folk explorations, fuzzed-out beats and raw instrumentals, Check This! doesn’t branch out so much as explode like a firecracker, its embers – both magnificent and inconsequential – falling without plan or harmony. Such variety makes for a garage-sale of an album but also considerably ups the odds of everyone finding a few worthy gems herein.

The first of these worthy gems, for my money, is indeed the opener, ‘I Kept It Real’, a low-key composition punched-up with fuzzed-out guitar and a fantastic psychedelic breakdown. Blurring directly into ‘[The Last Days of Heavy Metal]’, the first in a series of scattered instrumentals, and capped with the layered ‘Ain’t Got Nothin’ To Say’, Check This! struts an impressive range of songwriting throughout its first third. Half of these highlights’ value can be assessed through the delicate atmospheres Hicken wields amid his lo-fi aesthetic, like the soft nocturnal tones hovering over ‘I’m Not Around’ or menacing beneath ‘Watch Your Back’. These fine touches iron out some of the more abrasively raw moments, although ‘[One of These Days One]’, in its distorted, skeletal form, flows so perfectly you’ll wish Hicken explored the sketch beyond its thirty-second timeframe. Yep, Check This! is full of contradictions – many of them engaging, some frustrating.

Wallscenery Demos also prides itself on a chameleon-like need to swerve recklessly between levelheaded songwriting and bizarre are-you-serious buffoonery. While the record’s second half carries a few more gems (the classic-rock infused ‘They’ve Fallen Down’, ‘My Highest Regards’), they’re neighboured with some gritty beats and amp-blown distortion (‘Raw Shit’, ‘Bring That Shit Back’) that hardly sequence well together. These audacious but out-of-place tracks break what fragile cohesive hold Check This! managed over its early tracks, and distracts from Hicken’s utmost strengths. Although I appreciate Wallscenery Demos’ gauntlet for its unique blend of influences – not to mention his willingness to self-destruct – Check This! attempts too many tricks at once. Whether his upcoming 2010 record reigns those bipolar elements together or not… I can assure you that it’ll still be worth seeking out.

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