Hey — remember when everyone first heard The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me” about a trillion years ago and swore they were a European band? In fact, the misperception was so rooted, most people didn’t even bother doing their research about the group before bragging to others about this “new band from London they just had to check out.” Looking at Brandon Flowers and his friends didn’t help matters, either — from the eyeliner to the suits, the “Mr. Brightside” boys looked as British as their music sounded.
And then “Sam’s Town” came out, and that was about the end of that. They decided to chase dreams of Bruce Springsteen-esque arena rock, and the same dudes who once even filmed a DVD at the Royal Albert Hall — in London, mind you — simply became “that band from Las Vegas with the lead singer who wears weird jackets.” There’s nothing wrong with that, of course (this year’s “Battle Born” is as good as anything the group has ever offered), but the initial impression of who we all thought they were has morphed so drastically over the years, it’s now virtually impossible to assume these guys originated anywhere but the good, old United States of America.
It’s that exact first feeling of presumption that overwhelms “Delicate Man Thoughts,” the latest EP from Frederick-based Holy MTN, a half-indie, half-pop six-piece outfit that can’t quite decide if it wants to fully embrace either category. It’s not that any of the five songs that make up the release are particularly terrible — it’s just that none of them are particularly great, either. And for what it’s worth, the classification of “good” or “bad” isn’t even the initial notion that comes to mind upon sitting down with this disc for the first time. Rather, it’s the following question that refuses to be ignored: Wait … this stuff came from Frederick?
Such inquisition wouldn’t be so taxing if it wasn’t so blatant. It’s simply an impossible idiom to shake when considering everything from the opening synthesizer chords of “Wall King” to the final rings of a piano during “Yesterday.” Lead singer Samuel Tressler IV lends a voice that falls somewhere between David Byrne (who you may know) and Steve Bays (look it up) and the rest of Holy MTN fill in the rest with a spotty — if not at-times generic — blend of fairly pedestrian pop that has brief encounters with both brilliance and inadequacy.
Take “To Be,” for instance. Backed by the single mid-tempo groove on which these guys tend to lean heavily, the track feels a little second-rate as it features uncreative live drums and a guitar walk as predictable as it is harmonic. “I don’t want to be like anyone else anymore/ I’ve grown tired of that game,” Tressler sings during the song’s first verse, and he’s hard to believe. His jolty approach is unique, sure, but that doesn’t always have to translate to disconnect. The problem? Here, it does just that. Making matters worse is the notion that such a hiccup returns so much throughout the rest of the recording, it adds a sense of lameness to more disappointing moments than a listener may prefer.
Conversely, “Natural Moon” begins dreadfully with a slow and disenchanted pop feel before launching into some pretty solid funk that recalls The Apex Theory (remember them?!) and early-era Incubus. Even more noteworthy is the redemptive performance Tressler dials up as he hopelessly croons, “Don’t worry/ It’s all OK/ We’ll all be dead and gone/ And none of this will even matter.” As the line boils over into the next section, the recital turns to a scathing scream that Tressler might want to consider using more often.
Ahhh, but you see, the move also highlights precisely why “Delicate Man Thoughts” under-performs: Holy MTN just can’t get away from that watered-down rock approach that makes the majority of the tracks forgettable. “Yesterday” is generic despite the sparse appearances of Tressler’s growl or the sped-up tone of which the track blossoms in and out. Not even a funky clean guitar can save it from falling into the low-grade agenda that most of the EP displays. Why they waste their time sticking on the same feel that makes “Wall King” or “To Be” so frustrating, instead of taking to the kind of fast-paced groove that typically allows for more interesting and imaginative compositions isn’t just a problem with the release — it becomes its identity.
And speaking of identity, the guys in Holy MTN would serve themselves best if they could decide to pick one that accentuates their strengths rather than buries them. It’s exciting to think that this type of original post-rock/indie-dance music is available in Frederick, but it’s equally as upsetting to think that “Delicate Man Thoughts” is the best that both this area or Holy MTN could do. Actually, assuming as much would kind of be like arguing that The Killers could never produce something as anthemic as “When You Were Young” after first descending on the world with the simple pop of “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine.” Those guys knew how to highlight their strengths.
Holy MTN should take note.
** 2 STARS OUT OF 4 **