My girlfriend, Michelle, and I reached our one year anniversary recently, and to celebrate, we went to see the mighty Bloc Party at the Tower Theater about a week ago as of this writing. The Macabees and The Noisettes (whom Dan Brian simply loves) were good, but it was the Party that got the er… um, “party started.” Jangley guitars swirled all around us as frontman Kele Okereke enchanted us with his British accent. So charming!
What my love of Bloc Party has to do with Athens, GA indie rock band The Winter Sounds is this – the TWS debut, Porcelain Empire, wants to be Bloc Party some of the time, and, coincidentally, that’s when it’s at its strongest. Sometimes, it wants to have a more dialed-down cool like Interpol, and that’s kind of neat too. But deep down, the secret shame of Porcelain Empire is that it wants to be The Killers circa Hot Fuss. This explanation is a round-about way of saying that Porcelain Empire is continually trying to be anthemic, and that, more often than not, it’s bland, dull, radio-fodder.
The record hits it creative peek right away – the album cover depicts a fire-breathing swan, and that’s awesome. Track one, “Windy City Nights,” is slightly less awesome, but just by a hair. It’s got that great New Romantic vibe that the kids have been diggin’ on these days, and a killer hook to boot. While admittedly hokey, the heights Patrick Keenan and his bandmates soar to during the chorus are ridiculously uplifting. The song’s blend of guitar, drums, and keyboard is hypnotic. In short, “Windy City Nights” is a great song.After such a strong opening, though, Porcelain Empire just kind of… phones it in. “Gone to Save Mankind” ups the spastic post-punk ante, “A Call to Arms” proves that the band can jam out a lil bit, and “Poor Sailors” shifts the band’s dramatic element slightly with some violin, but mostly the record is new wave-y indie rock by numbers. The group claims to be influenced by “early ’70s underground rock, punk, anti-folk, chamber pop, and early-00’s indie rock,” but it’s hard to discern anything outside of that last attribution. By the time the second half of the record comes around, the swelling of each chorus, plaintive twinkling of each keyboard part, and the ethereal swirl of each guitar line becomes so predictable that there’s barely any reason to listen to the album at all.