Arguably the Andrew Ridgeley to Ben Gibbard’s better known George Michael in the mid-90s band Pinwheel, Army Navy front man Justin Kennedy has his work cut out for him if he hopes to make a name for himself solo. So far, judging from his new band’s self-titled debut, he sounds content to just play it safe, not so much following as driving parallel to the indie pop road paved by his former colleague’s Death Cab. The result is an amiable, but unremarkable effort that while ripe with potential to explore on future efforts, lacks distinctiveness in and of itself.
Despite being produced by Adam Lasus — whose resume most notably includes albums by the likes of indie faves Yo La Tengo and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!– the album has an acute Britpop feel, evoking memories of groups from early Teenage Fanclub to early XTC to The Libertines. The sound of the former act is particularly prevalent in the opening trio of “Dark as Days,” “My Thin Sides” and “Saints.” All three songs rock with a breezy, Bandwagonesque propulsion that one hopes the rest of the album can deliver just as easily.
However, what follows slips not so much into a consistent groove as a comfortable rut. The songs are far from unappealing. In fact, many of them are catchy and downright enjoyable individually. The problem is that together, they are completely transposable, hence robbing the album of momentum. Perhaps tellingly, the only song that even mildly stands out from the rest of the pack is the song that most closely resembles Kennedy’s former Pinwheel partner: “Unresponsive Ears” has a undeniable jangly charm, laced with what sounds like glockenspiel and blossoming lovely layer after layer of guitar with each passing chorus. It would have sounded right at home on the last Death Cab for Cutie album, but it doesn’t help on a debut album struggling for a unique identity.
Regardless of the album’s innocuous, interchangeable nature, the band displays a seasoned prowess in its execution. Kennedy’s lyrics are appropriate for the sound if a little generic in subject matter, and he often sings like a more nasal Britt Daniel(yet another American indie staple). Diverting but non-descript, these songs are the perfect fodder for teen movie soundtracks, which is fitting given how they’ve been tapped for the upcoming Michael Ceravehicle “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” That will no doubt give them a modest boost for passing recognition, but they’ll need to push a little harder next time (and there’s enough raw talent on display here to justify a next time) for real longevity.
Army Navy’s debut album is released Oct. 14, 2008 by the Fever Zone.
01. Dark As Days
02. Jail Is Fine
04. Silvey Sleds
05. My Thin Sides
06. Unresponsive Ears
07. Slight Of Hand
08. Pocket Boys
10. Snakes of Hawaii
11. In the Lime
12. Golden Pony
Written by: Rob Huff
Filed under: album reviews | Tagged: adam lasus, album review, Andrew Ridgeley, army navy, ben gibbard, Britt Daniel, clap your hands say yeah, death cab for cutie, George Michael, justin kennedy, Michael Cera, pinwheel, rob huff, teenage fanclub, The Fever Zone, the Libertines, XTC, Yo La Tengo | Leave a Comment »