Say what you will about the failures of 2008, but from it we're learning: If people won't even buy a boring Guns N' Roses or R.E.M. record, then they're not likely to turn an ear up to a lackluster album they haven't yet heard. We've become searchers for what's interesting, and we lack the patience to uncover potential layers in the seemingly bland.
Enter a band like Vulture Whale. The first half of their self-titled album reads like a compelling case for such an industry demise. It sounds slightly noisy, not overly melodic, and it's evenly tempoed; there's nothing abrasive about these songs. There's also nothing particularly interesting about them. With the irreverence kicked off on tracks like "Teedy" and "Sum Yung Scientist" combined with the signature indie rock guitar jangle, it's hard not to wonder if this is what Vampire Weekend might sound like if they didn't rip off Paul Simon.
On the other hand, tracks like "The Waves" recall the softer side of the Pixies, and a shimmer of something compelling begins to emerge. The follow-up, "What Do", features an exaggerated vocal accent that gives it a quirky simplicity that falls somewhere between the beloved Ass Ponys. As resistant as any listener may be at encountering a number of songs that sound mostly like "what everyone is trying to do," it's hard not to relax into the final half of the album.
It's even more difficult to stop picking out the interesting bits once you've begun. A re-listen pulls out a pouty drawl in "Sugar" (from the aforementioned dreaded "first half"), inviting the potential for a brighter overall assessment. Still, there are too many stumbling blocks for Vulture Whale to overcome: the trite, too-easy lyrics of "Head Turner", the sudden misplaced rockabilly spirit that comes with "Guillotine", the general predictability of "Thought Eyes."
This band might not be something to give up on, but to wait for. A compilation of their more interesting moments might bear some truly worthwhile fruit, but on the whole, Vulture Whale has a few too many missteps (or non-steps) for the listener to continue the search.