Energy. If it’s there, it can turn a good band into a great band; if it’s not, mediocrity becomes the highest ceiling. Of all the intangibles it takes to create something special musically, vigor is without question in the top tier of necessities. You can learn how to play all the most intricate guitar chords, you can figure out all the neat tricks one can accomplish with two drum sticks, and you can come up with the wildest, most innovative effects the human ear could ever hear, but it’s all for nothing if you don’t have an ample amount of energy to go with it.
Sadly, that’s the achilles heel of Fermi’s Paradox’s self-titled EP. Clearly influenced by the pop-prog that thrived in the mainstream most recently in the late 1990s and early 2000s, these five songs beg to be heard with more passion, more vitality. A band like Incubus — which is clearly a huge inspiration here — garnered the success it garnered throughout its early years due to a vibrancy that could be felt both onstage and on a record.
Here, though, the quartet falters due to a lack of spirit. “Atlas,” with its jam groove and mild funk, could be a glow-stick evening under the stars, cut-off jeans swaying to the wind of the night in unison with a bass line so chill, it’s probably best paired with Netflix. But as singer Diego Retana claims, he’s “bound by shackles of my shame,” he’s simply too unconvincing to take seriously. In some ways, you almost wonder if he’d rather not be heard, refusing to emote his words with any type of attack.
Compounding the issue is Alex Taylor’s guitar, which can’t quite seem to lock in with its surroundings while a solo eventually unfolds. The same problem plagues a song like “Under The Stars,” which plays far looser than it should. It’s not that the parts aren’t logical — and it’s not like anyone should be criticized for a lack of effort — it’s just that with a little more attention to detail and a lot more rehearsal, this is a song that could soar rather than glide.
Perhaps the closest the band gets to that level is when it’s at its most Incubus-y, and in the case of this EP, that comes in the form of opener “Entropy.” Complete with spacey guitar effects and a dance-tastic, forward-pushing structure, it stands as the tightest the group feels throughout each of these five tracks. Plus, the distorted soloing that rings through the bridge is chaotic in all the right ways, paving the way for a solid chorus that feels more immediate than anything else surrounding it. If nothing else, it proves that Taylor can shred whenever he feels inspired to do so.
The problem is that he — and the rest of his bandmates, for that matter — doesn’t seem inspired all that much. “Community” wants to push forward, but the overriding feeling that prevails throughout the first two-plus minutes is apathy. It’s a shame, too, considering how much potential is there. It’s like the ideas are ready to blast themselves to the next level — especially here, with an up-tempo, slightly off-kilter groove — but the players behind them aren’t willing to meet them with the appropriate amount of enthusiasm they need to reach the next level.
In fact, such is probably why “Matter” works in the way it does. Balladry fits these guys well, especially when a layered atmosphere shines like the moon on a cloudless night, and these verses prove to be as deliciously milky as the finest chocolate. Even the chorus, a repetitive-yet-interesting arrangement, feels more realized than the rest of its brethren. It oscillates with intriguing confidence, a welcome contradiction to the skepticism that follows these performances throughout the rest of the EP.
Or, in other words, the rest of the EP could learn a thing or three from such self-awareness. Ballads are supposed to be toned down, and in the case of Fermi’s Paradox, both the band and the record, everything appears far too subdued to leave any possible lasting impact. It’s not a matter of inadequacy or failed ideas; rather, it’s a matter of execution, a slight on the unwillingness for a band to sell themselves with any type of passion, any type of fire.
“It’s just so cozy inside a bubble,” Retana sings on closer “Community.” Fermi’s Paradox, for better or worse, might be surprised at what they could accomplish, should that bubble ever burst.
** 2 STARS OUT OF 4 **