Have you ever gone camping and sat around a fire with a guitar in a non-hippie sort of way? And don't start with the creepy boy-scout-molestation ideas, either. But you know, just been out under the million stars you can't see in the city, singing songs for people you're close with, and trying to stay warm by a small fire? Well, neither have I, but after hearing the Static Films debut album on BlueSanct, I think I've got an idea what it might be like.
There's a certain intimacy involved with the above situation that you can't really fake, and on "Force Over Distance," Static Films does that very well. At least, on some songs. This album is frustrating because there are moments of brilliance and then moments of over-indulgence that make you want to just shake whoever is responsible and say "What the hell are you doing?! Just stop it! Christ!" Well, maybe not that extreme. It?s like when your mom makes that amazing chocolate cake that she's made for you most of your life. You love this cake; it's the most delicious and moist cake you've ever tasted. Then, just because she can, she tries some other recipe that's not that great. It frustrates you because you think "Mom! We all know what you?re capable of - we've tasted your cake! Why did you go and do this silly experiment?" That's how I feel about certain songs on this album.
The CD opens with the lovely, albeit lengthy, title track. It's with this song that I'm most reminded of the aforementioned campfire scenario. There's something haunting and beautiful about this song, even though it's just a guy and his acoustic guitar. The vocals remind me of Simon Joyner, in a way. Lyrics like "God is an open hand on her chest" and "Hope will await us there" are sung with the most sincere honesty and longing. It is wonderful, and I feel like I shouldn't be hearing this, it's so intimate. There's one big problem with this song: it's 12 minutes long. Now, I have no problem with long songs, but honestly after 12 minutes of a guy doing solo acoustic guitar music, I want to punch him. This really is a wonderful song, but as the saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing. This is way too much.
Track two, "Panthalassa," sort of suffers the same fate. The opening 2 minutes is this catchy kind of Smiths (in a very vague way) song. Then it goes into 5 minutes of droning and moaning that would be good for the a final minute and a half, but sheesh. It's especially annoying because it makes you wait even longer for the best song on the album, "Cave Point Park." This song was what originally made me buy this CD. It's so delightful! It opens with some sort of instrument (I can't place it. I think it may be some sort of keyed instrument) and then an organ and/or horns fade in with the vocals. It's really Victorian sounding, and I love it. There's also kettle drums (or toms mixed really deep) that accentuate the doubled vocals. Really, this song has this Tom Waits feeling to it that is fantastic. Harmonies, muted trumpet, sparse clanging cymbal work... this is the angle Static Films should focus on.
The rest of the album is really good, too. "Optimism Rising" is played slow on an electric guitar with minimal percussion and some nice harmonica playing. The vocals are sleepy in a good way, and the overall mood of the song is of someone who is at absolute bottom and realizes there're good things to come. I'm reminded of someone exorcising their demons through song just so they can move forward. "Phosphorescent Aquatic Life" is my second favorite song on the album and is mostly acoustic guitar and vocals, but there are some nice atmospheric sounds in the latter half and some subtle (but excellent) strings. Again, think intimacy times ten. I imagine watching someone through the window of their apartment getting awful news of some sort. There's something about this song that makes me picture someone pacing. "Just Above Sea Level, Just Below Sea Level" is a nice mix of "Cave Pt. Park" and the first part of "Panthalassa." The bongos and other percussion make it even more catchy. He's beside the campfire again, but this time he brought friends to play along, too. The strings are a very welcome addition and contribute to the song's warmth. I want to hear this when I'm sipping a glass of red wine on my new balcony. "Song for Emily" starts off strong with the quiet guitar and sad vocals, but then it just becomes a doubled vocal track saying "Na na na" and other crap over and over again. This song is a good microcosm for the whole album. It's so close to being a remarkable record, but holds itself back.
I learned three things from this album: 1. Static Films have a lot of promise and real songwriting talent. I look forward to his next album and have no idea what to expect (this is good). 2. I want to go camping and bring my guitar and my wife. I think it'd be wonderful and fun to record. 3. If I ever am at a show where someone plays a 12 minute song that's just guitar and vocals, I'm punching them in the fucking face. 7/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)