That seems to be the attitude of a large number of people these days, from both a musician’s standpoint and a music fan’s standpoint. The former seems to believe it gives him or her some mysterious level of credibility if such an approach is used when crafting a record while the latter believes it’s super cool to enjoy listening to some under-produced heap of garbage that thrives off a pretentious outlook on making music.
Frederick’s Radiolab manages to pull off the magnificent task of combining aspects of those two forces on their latest effort, the ubiquitously titled “Phantom Limb” EP. The result is a five-song mesh of cringe-worthy, oftentimes embarrassingly bad moments that quite literally leave an unforgivable impression on anyone who dares to listen to this drudge.
The worst moments come when the duo of Dane Di Pierro (the talentless “musician” of the bunch) and Meghan Redding (the unfortunate “voice” moronically tied to the talentless “musician” of the bunch) insists on being taken seriously. And how do we know they demand to be taken seriously? Spoken word vocal tracks, duh.
“Death Wish” is comical to the point of agony, and Redding’s deliciously awful lines asking someone to “stick a fork in a socket” and “take a bath with a toaster” aren’t even the worst this track gets. Nope. That award goes to the final third of the song, which somehow transforms from an upbeat faux punk-rock stomp to what appears to be the lamest attempt at processed jazz music ever offered on record. Cheesy? Yes. Unwarranted? Of course. A bad idea? You bet. But what sets it apart from other missteps is the immediate recollection of any scene from a Christopher Guest movie that flashes before your eyes as you listen to these two people trying oh-so-hard to be taken oh-so-seriously … and failing — oh, so much.
More of the same can be said for “This Is A Joke” and “Spider Kiss,” though with these two songs, Di Pierro is the culprit committing the crime of bad musicianship. During “Joke,” his programming skills are unimaginative and somehow disjointed, creating the first-ever electronic drum beat in the history of mankind to lack a time stamp. “Spider Kiss,” meanwhile, is the worst of the worst as he straps on a guitar to have a hand in what turns out to be abysmal consequences. Clearly unable to figure out how to successfully craft a tight-sounding, coherent piece of musical composition, he manages to miss each opportunity to lock his guitar in with the Fisher Price groove he offers underneath it all. The result is something that sounds like an 11-year-old picked up his daddy’s instruments and tried to make something that sounded like the soundtrack to an age-inappropriate video game from 1992.
The only redeeming quality throughout all of “Phantom Limb” is its title track, a slowed-down ballad that still showcases the duo’s ineptitude but offers a glimmer of hope with Redding’s vocal performance. Surprisingly enough, her delicate side suggests a tinge of Alanis Morissette, circa her “Under Rug Swept” years (think none of the attitude of “You Oughta Know” and all of the sweetness of “Hands Clean”). It’s a welcome distraction, really, but it still doesn’t even come close to making up for the awkward recitation of the talk-like monotone vocals she provides for the rest of the EP’s songs (sans the final track, “All In The Mind,” which is sample-filled and beat-heavy for some unbeknownst — yet certainly “artistic” — reason).
In the end, what did we learn from Radiolab’s “Phantom Limb”? Pulling off electro-pop isn’t nearly as easy is it sounds. Actually, this is a record that should be the first example when arguing such a point. It’s hollow from a talent standpoint. It’s unlistenable from a fan’s standpoint. And it’s entirely uncredible from a musician’s standpoint. You might argue that Di Pierro and Redding should receive some praise for stepping out and producing something — anything — in the first place, but if you did so, you’d also be wrong because this is an EP smothered in self-worth and egotism. Had “Phantom Limb” shown even the smallest bit of humility, these guys might deserve a break for at least giving the whole hipster-loving electronic pop duo thing a try. But instead, there’s nothing here worth exploring, even if what you are looking for is a record to laugh at.
“Everything has a price and we’re broke. This is a joke,” Redding sings at one point. Hey, sweetheart — your words, not mine.
* 1/2 STAR OUT OF 4 *