Stone By Stone
It’s hard to believe that Floater have been on the local scene for over thirteen years, but it’s true. It was 1994 when the band broke out with their debut release, Sink. In the intervening years, the scrappy three-piece have refined their sound (or sounds, to be more accurate) and have become a very efficient in their presentation.
For some reason, this brilliant album has been largely ignored by the press and the public. This can only be attributable to poor promotion on the band’s part- as this recording is certainly one of the best indie releases of 2006 and should have been on many critics lists. It’s now on mine (as I have yet to complete my list of the Best of 2005- I still have plenty of time to amend 2006). There is not a bad cut among the fourteen presented. In fact each is vital and intrinsic. Not a “concept” album per se, it is thematic in structure, none the less, with a variety of musical styles presented; while maintaining a cohesive band identity. This is what a band sounds like after it has been together thirteen years or so.
Where there were times in the past when the band may have been a tad “murky” (uh, maybe “smoky”?) in their artistic vision, with haphazard sound collages butting up against tightly arranged numbers- here the melange is integrated into a pleasing whole- with the more, shall we say, pastoral segments dovetailing nicely into the main expository sections of each song. This too is the product of years of trial-and-error experimentation- with success being the end result.
The album kicks off with “An Apology,” a number whose visceral impact is similarly powerful to Pearl Jam’s “Life Wasted” on their eponymously entitled album of last year. Dave Amador’s chunky guitar riffs create the setting, while bassist/songwriter Rob Wynia wails ala Vedder over drummer Pete Cornett’s hard-snapping drums. The lyrics are dark and pessimistic- pretty much par for the Floater course: “Want it all, but can’t pay the bill/Staring out my little window sill/My companion is one colorful pill/Nobody cares about what they can’t kill.”
Heavier is “Ghost In The Making.” With Amador’s Spanish flavored arpeggios dancing a delicate waltz beneath, Wynia wrenches forth tortured lyrics that culminate in a memorable chorus- one that lodges like a bullet squarely in the brain. The anthemic diatribe “In America,” benefits from Amador’s inspired guitar work and Wynia’s impassioned vocals.
A reggae syncopation informs “Weightless,” adding a sense of tension to the proceedings. Another strong chorus and powerful solo by Amador make of this one of the more accessible tracks of the album. “Breakdown” has a similar sprint to middle-period U2. A little anachronistic for this outing. “Helping Hands” has a certain Dungeons and Dragons metal context that limits, somewhat, its appeal- toward a certain noble chivalry. “The Wave” seeks to offer solace and reassurance in a similar context.
“Everythning Falls Our Way” is notable, if for no other reason, because it employs (more or less) properly the latin term quid pro quo- which implies an equal exchange or substitution. Here, that would be “feeling high,“ for “feeling low,” which would certainly be an unfortunate- but equal- exchange. Amador’s inspired solo in the back third of this song is worth the price of admission. “My Burden” features a stirring chorus, with Wynia’s elegant falsetto hovering softly above the fray.
Amador again distinguishes himself with his array of filigrees and textures on “In Transition.” With Wynia singing in his pleasing upper register, vaguely reminiscent of late ‘80s Bono, Amador flurries blizzardous snowflakes of arpeggios in key spots. The final two tracks “Tonight No One Knows” and “Home In The Sky” don’t really further the production in any essential way and possibly could have been left out of the final lineup.
This is true of a couple of other songs. This album would have been far tighter, and more impressive, at a 45 minute length than it is at 58 minutes. But that is the (wrong) choice many bands make when considering the options as to how many of the available 80 minutes on a CD they might wish to employ to display their creative musings. Sometimes less really is more. How many novelists feel their books really must be 300 pages, no matter what. Some settle for 180 and write a better book for that.
But with that slight complaint out of the way, one must applaud Floater for their sterling musicianship, throughout this project- and their subtly stellar application of musical techniques and devices- which give each number its own character and color. This is the mark of a quality band; a real team. And this is a real team effort, from a group that has been together for a long time. Floater’s hard work and dedication have paid off. This is a real good album.