Beavis and Butthead once dismissed Pavement’s mopiest song, “Grounded,” by declaring, “I wouldn’t mind if they sucked if they also rocked. You know, the Jesus Lizard suck, but at least they rock.” The sentiment applies all too aptly to the new Calla record, Strength In Numbers, a particularly mellow effort from the Austin/Brooklyn hipster trio. You could say Strength in Numbers is all bark and no bite, except there’s not any bark either. It’s well into the seventh track (“Bronson”) before the record delivers anything remotely approximating up-tempo, and even then the Meg White-esque drumming is dulled by vocalist Aurelio Valle’s whiny coo.
The press release namedrops Low and Nick Cave as reference points, but all I hear is Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst. However, even Mr. Oberst knows a major chord or two, and sometimes has Emmylou Harris singing backup. Other than something that sounds like a marimba on the song “Rise,” there’s not a whole lot to the album but slow rhythms and acoustic guitars with delay pedals masquerading as ambience (avoid the boring, plinky interlude “Malo” at all costs). Strength In Numbers is one 53-minute-long dick tease.
All of which is too bad, since the group has a definite ear for melody. “Stand Paralyzed” and “Malicious Manner” each toe the line of the gritty catchiness of one-hit-wonders like the Toadies. “Simone” and the closer “Dancers In The Dust” are both nearly awesome; not exactly The Fall or Joy Division or anything, but not Panic At The Disco either. Calla’s last release Collisions was noisier, and while a few more effects pedals won’t save the day, paying a little more attention to the songs’ hooks and worrying less about drawing out a discomforting mood would earn Strength In Numbers another star-and-a-half or so. Just ‘cause you’re from New York doesn’t make you Steve Reich, dudes.