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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman



    I have a feeling that this review will have a lot to do with names.

    Names are important to me, and names are important to art. Yes, it’s contrary to our ideals to admit that these stunted little labels factor into our judgments of something so culturally sanctified. But let’s be pragmatic. When we critique a work of music, we are, at some level, passing judging on the character of the creator. Albums aren’t islands, and I just don’t have the intellectual discipline to approach them as such. Just like when we fall in love with a band, we are tapping into an entity beyond precisely what’s projected in data on an optical disc. And names, like cover art, are part of the package.

    That being said, “Cheer Up Chap, Middle School Isn’t Everything,” Vision Through Sound’s fourth release, is something of a partial masterpiece of nomenclature. Song titles like “Moving to Catatonia,” “The Perks of Being a Vampire” (get it?) and “Hello, Cruel World,” help us attach a Shakespearian wit and a lively esprit to the minds behind the music. Even the more concise names (“The Bricklayer,” “Peter, Peter,” “Brown”) exude a mainstream professionalism that makes VTS appear viable beyond the local setting. The greatest parts of Vision Through Sound – the screaming nascent-Radiohead riffage, the bright composition, the Blackbird-esque chord canniness at the start of the very first song – make sense in the context of names like these.

    Names work for the band and names work against, though. The name “Vision Through Sound,” itself, is a blemish. Self-reference of the medium? Come on. LSD-induced synesthesia perhaps? Or echolocation? I find I have a deep revulsion toward any band that acknowledges music in its name. It’s kind of unimaginative and it activates some troubled OCD switch within me (at least they don’t have a “The”). It’s not much. But it alludes to the fact that this band is capable of less.

    And, sure enough, a great deal of the previously-alluded-to cheekiness is lost in a mess of deflated potential. Lines like “The souls that seep through the sewer tops drop loose change into machine slots,” sound trying-too-hard, delivered in this faux-Pearl Jam bellow, even over clever chords and top-notch production. Is it a joke or isn’t it? It’s all about context. Names, among other things, forge context.

    Suddenly, “Peter, Peter,” a poignant, alluring name, certainly worthy of CD package gloss, turns out to just be an inept protest song – the kind of thing that any Long Island kid who listens to enough “Pablo Honey” and watches a few installments of Olbermann could have written. And all the while, Fran Berkman’s scintillating guitar-hope shines on in the background. This whole record is a jungle of self-cancelling forces, one underachieving element or another keeping the whole mess on the verge of being absolutely glorious. “E. Smith Street,” one of those stalwart, cool-as-hell titles, sports lead singer Andrew Krolikowski twisting the word “wingspan” into something perverse like “weengspaaaahn,” and announcing, in a single monstrous chorus, that he just doesn’t really get it. At least, not yet. Not quite.

    That’s the thing. These guys deserve a huge amount of credit. They really do. In so many respects, they’re head and shoulders above almost every single other Long Island act. But there’s something absolutely crushing about hearing every song proclaim “we could be viable and relevant if we really, really wanted to,” and never quite delivering.

    On “Cheer Up Chap, Middle School Isn’t Everything,” Vision Through Sound rocks out as if they’ve become secure in their notion of their own “voice.” After a series of successful self-produced albums, they’re quite certain they’ve found it, in fact. This represents a failure on the part of the band to recognize that they’re actually, potentially, on the cusp of something. Because every song points to the fact that these four Long Island guys are exceptional in their love of all the right things – Radiohead, angular guitar riffs, the right chords, wordplay, well-placed dance-rock drum lines, wit, and intra-band dynamic – they just need to step back and synthesize. What makes the music they love great? And, of course, how can we turn this triumph of tastes and talent into something novel (which is to say, interesting enough to capture national attention)? Ugh, there’s that pragmatism again. I suggest we just learn to live with it.

    . Maybe the problem here is that the members of Vision Through Sound have grown too comfortable with their position as the local champions of alt-rock and all-around decent music. Big fish in a small pond syndrome. But the staple of every great band is their ability to unlock themselves from their state of being and continue pushing the envelope even when they think they’ve gotten good. And, for some reason, like a sage reading chicken bones or some hack seeing signs in tea leaves, I have harped upon these song titles as the prime indicator of some huge, not-so-hidden potential.

    My recommendation? Drop every ’90’s throwback element that weighs down the vocals and lyrics and forge on, wild, into the future, armed with your glut of experimental smarts and pop sensibility. Explore the all-too-fashionable planes of indie-pop and folk-rock, fellows, even on a lark. There’s no shame in jumping on the bandwagon – after all, you could do great, great things there.

    And, um, consider a name change.

    This review was reprinted with the permission of, an online magazine for Long Island music.

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