Chicago's The Narrator is a tough band to peg. Nothing has really been documented of them other than reviews for their first two releases ('04's Youth City EP and '05's Such Triumph), which were described as both unfulfilling and awesome, respectfully. Hit or miss, I guess. Then there was a Pitchfork critic who described their live show as, "the most dangerous concert I've ever been to..." So it was with an intrigued caution, you might say, that I picked up their latest, All That To The Wall.
Upon first listen this will just sound like another sloppy guitar driven garage band, serving up rock with a little bit of angst and a faltering voice. Leading off with "Son Of The Son Of The Kiss," wariness sets in as angular guitars pick their way around a fuzzy drum beat, and the thought of another Bloc Party slowly sets in. Though while it is an upbeat and emotive track, you must disregard this feeling, because the rest of the album rarely gets up to this tempo again and, in doing so, shines...in a lazy sort of way.
Influences like Pavement and Modest Mouse show through on tracks like "Panic At Puppy Beach" and "Speeding Up The Gang," with the latter setting up the mise en scene for the entire album as lethargic guitars bend a melody out of nothing and lyrics exclaim, "I feel like shit/I always do." These drab hits impress what could be an excellent lazy Sunday afternoon record, instantly inducing an apathetic view on whatever task lay in front of you. Only furthering the feeling is the last-minute submission, "All The Tired Horses." A cover off Dylan's critically panned 1970 release, Self Portrait, The Narrator use it to the album's advantage, furthering their attitudes with the track's only lyrics, "All the tired horses in the sun/How'm I supposed to get any ridin' done?/Hmm."
There are still some slightly upbeat numbers, not that any of the previously mentioned tracks are slow ballads (more "slacker-rock"). "Breaking The Turtle" does a great job jumping up the pace, breaking back into another erratically picked melody and "August 32nd" showcases a nice wall of fuzz. "Surf Jew" fits the bill as the band's "radio-friendly" single, but I think "Papal Airways" is one of the better rockers on the album, with a guitar punctuated beat and slow decay into a nice synchronized bit of handclapping.
One of the more standout qualities of The Narrator, and one that ultimately makes this album worth listening to on repeat, is their attitude. With equal parts punk and alternative, their apathetic view of things is infectious (be that bad or good). With guitar chinks and clinks that could just as easily be strategically placed, and vocals that push their own limits despite the outcome, The Narrator succeed in pulling you in for the entirety of the album. Not that they really seem to care.