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The Statesman

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    Elegy – Ether Switch

    It’s no revelation that the members of Ether Switch bring something strange to our island. Their dusky blend of punk, industrial and electronic music forms the square peg to the local culture’s round, and often gaping, hole.

    But on “Elegy,” the Roslyn duo proves that stuff this gray and this cerebral isn’t relegated to the foggy, post-hip-party, neon-light climate of our urban center. Some quality makes of these eleven tracks not “trying to be Brooklyn,” but, in fact, sustainable on our eternal “Isle of Adolescent Enthusiasm.” It points to the notion that as the rawness and passion of emo wanes, distorted beyond recognition by years of pop marketability and practice, the more interesting young people seek out new styles as vehicles for their sincerity.

    It certainly has something to do with the character of Doug Bleek, lead singer, guitarist, producer, programmer, who is consistently smart and honest enough to balance, well, his smartness with his honesty.

    Despite paying constant homage to Paul Banks of Interpol, Bleek artfully avoids his tendency to talk down to the audience like an older brother whose sorrowful thoughts we couldn’t possibly understand. No lone-wolves-by-design here. Although some wordy, abstract lyrical passages come close, (“Spiraling around like fairies / They are singing for us / They are dreaming us up / So it’s attributed to their hopes for whatever purpose,” from “Zeal”) there isn’t an excess of “strangeness for the sake of being strange.” Nothing that might elicit cries of “elitism” and “snobbery” from a population particularly sensitive to patronization.

    The music is pretty awesome, too, and surprisingly eclectic — an exercise in taking old ideas (largely from the ’90s), combining them in captivating forms, and imbuing them with youthful spirit. In “Square One,” a lasery, infectious rock riff becomes the backdrop for a vocal and drum performance that approaches the best of Interpol. “Machiavelli Martyr” breaks down into a chaotic Nine Inch Nails chorus, while the guitar riff from “Zeal” draws on the funk groove of John Frusciante.

    Two of the more standout tracks — “Everything Sacred” and “Japanese Candy” — stay hidden until they rear their heads, boldly, at the end of the record, completing the circle started by the delightfully concise power-opener “Swerve.” Throughout, Bleek and drummer Eddie C. are masters of turning a couple of friends messing around into a real band, and weaving two instruments and a computer into an shrink-wrapped piece of professionalism you’d expect to find on shelves across the country.

    However, some of the album’s flaws are inherent in the classically minimalist guitar-drums lineup. In lieu of musical dynamics (not often an option with two people), “Elegy” leans heavily on its role as a lyrical vehicle for Bleek’s poetry, and resorts to wordiness at times — especially during the five minutes and twenty-one seconds of “Hey Old Faces,” which suffers despite Bleek’s excellent use of his limited vocal range.

    “Release, Realize, Revert” has the same problems, although some of Eddie C.’s best work and one of the record’s best choruses are hidden within its six minutes and 20 seconds. Even with the expert use of synth and guitar effects to layer bare punk foundations (Bleek studies audio recording at NYU) we catch ourselves not listening too often, daydreaming to a soundtrack of electronic ambiance, spacey guitar and intentionally monotonous contemplations. Which is particularly tragic because “Elegy” is almost always saying something interesting.

    I guess you could make the argument that these long, droning compositions contribute to the steel-and-asphalt atmosphere for which they are shooting, at the expense of some degree of accessibility. After all, there’s nothing wrong with making us work a little bit. Part of the intrigue of Ether Switch is the mental exercise of super-imposing Interpol’s New York nightscapes over the lawny, upper-class sprawl of suburban Roslyn. It works, and it makes sense on many levels, exposing the grays in a society that’s almost exclusively viewed through the red and blue lenses of youthful melodrama.

    I’m surprised that they’re the first Long Islanders to play this angle, and it attests to their artistic maturity and personal complexity. It’s a shame that they’re going to have to forge their careers out in the indie clubs of Brooklyn and Manhattan. We could definitely use these guys right now.

    This review was reprinted with the permission of www.cluballey.com, an online magazine for Long Island music. Will James, a Statesman contributer, is Editor-in-Chief of www.cluballey.com.

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