It’s a frustrating task, listening to a band that has valuable parts, each of which don’t necessarily line up with the others. A good chorus followed by a disjointed bridge. A killer bass player with a wimpy drummer. Great lyrics told by an unattractive singing voice. A piano player who slays next to a tambourine man with no rhythm.
Such is the case with Frederick rock trio The Meer’s latest set, “Seven.” It wouldn’t be fair to label these guys (and one woman) talentless — it’s such a low-produced record that the actual performance aspect of this is hard to judge on face value — but it would be fair to wonder precisely how much each individual wants to get to the next level, both in creativity and capability. There isn’t a ceiling in sight throughout any of these songs, but that’s not to say The Meer should merely be copacetic with where they currently stand, which, regrettably, is on the ground floor.
The quick and clear highlight is singer Wanda Perkins. She has a pretty voice that deserves better backup whenever it’s called into battle. “Fast Train,” the record’s makeshift opus at a little more than five minutes, eventually features about 2 million Wandas reciting the song’s namesake. Sure, you could dismiss it as a bowl of cheese, but the move allows that charming vocal to stand front and center without the detriment of loose musical performances behind it. Her talent pierces through a weirdly fragmented structure that tries to be too versatile for its own good.
Perhaps the most solid moment comes in the from of opener “Sand Machine.” Fading up with a driving drum beat and a familiar (if not overly accessible) bass line, it works because of its consistency. When a lead guitar riff takes hold right around the one-minute mark, it passes as both interesting and capable. The seamlessness of it all is appreciated, especially when such attributes can’t be applied elsewhere.
Like on “Shark Tooth.” Sure, there’s a nice little rock guitar riff that the entire track is centered around, but it’s as if these guys just stopped thinking after coming up with it. Because for reasons that can’t be explained, one mid-tempo feel switches to another mid-tempo feel a little more than halfway through it. The move could be justified if that change was carried through to the end, but after a handful of measures, the track retreats back to its signature guitar hook. Add some indecipherable chant-lyrics on top of it, and everything gets super messy super quick.
That lack of focus is unquestionably the most exasperating thing about the set. Take the title track, which allows Perkins to step up with her college-rock voice asserting a line like, “You can’t run from everything.” But even she can’t bail them out of the song’s boring structure, which amounts to little more than a couple crescendos that awkwardly come and go whenever they please.
Closer “The Build” tacks a question mark onto the end of everything with more of the same. Sparse open guitar chords. Drums that feel more lost and unsure than most presidential candidates. A specific blend of repetition that grates on the listener after too long (which, in reality, isn’t all that long anyway). It’s a tough listen. If nothing else, the track falls in line with its predecessors, adhering to sloppy songwriting ethos and lo-fi, indie rock textures that beg to be more realized than they actually are.
Which brings us back to the ground floor. It’s not that The Meer don’t have potential — Perkins, especially, ought to put that voice of hers to work more often — it’s just that “Seven” is the sound of an inexperienced band making an inexperienced record, growing pains and all. Being a trio is admirable, especially in today’s world of over-produced and over-stuffed rock acts that swear they need four guitarists on stage at all times. But in order to pull it off successfully, you have to gel, you have to open up and you have to play. And then you have to play some more. And then you have to play some more.
The Meer, God bless them, need to get back to work. And most importantly, they need to look for their first ceiling. The ground floor can only take you so far.
* 1 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 *