Monday, March 14, 2011

Univox -- Mixing Genres At Will, But Will It Leave You Cold?

Univox's debut release (on ROIR, a great label) has been critically hailed as indie pop rock at its best.  Bands like The Kinks and The Stooges have been thrown around when describing Univox's sound.  Hailing from Philadelphia, a city I used to spend way too much time in, Univox is, if you believe the hype, a sort of Second Coming of music.  Not happy to stick to one genre, Univox may be worthy of some of that hype, though the end result fails to move me.

I've got no beef with bands that play with music genres the same way kids play with toys, mixing and matching and making it work.  You've got to be talented to pull it off.  (Think of Mr. Bungle, which not only mixes genres, but tweaks them to the point where they are almost unrecognizable.)  Univox, a four-piece for those concerned, has that talent.  In fact, the first track, "Pi," has some real promise.  It quickly goes downhill from there.

I picture a club.  It could be anywhere.  A lot of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings are standing around, import beer in plastic white cups.  They all look like they shopped at the same clothes store.  Univox is on stage.  The crowd nods in time.  Between songs there is playful band banter.  You know.  The general comments about whatever city they are in.  The audience responds in kind.  Occasionally, drinks are raised in praise of one thing or another.  The band ends on with "Mind Traveler's Song," and the crowd demands more.  They leave the stage.  Come back a few minutes later and do a couple of quick covers.  Black Flag.  Rod Stewart.  Right Said Fred.  Showing off their chops as it were, and having fun.  The people go home with smiles on their faces.  The next day they can't remember much of what happened during the show.  It has become disposable.

Univox's strength is also its curse.  The fact that you can't pinpoint a sound on it shows just how talented the band is, but at the same time robs it of its identity.  That's not always a bad thing, but in this case it works against the band. 

I'm sure some will accuse me of blasphemy.  Perhaps they are right.  This seems like the kind of band Spin will praise in a year or so (if it hasn't already), too late to matter, and too lame to know it.  And that's the problem.  It doesn't challenge the listeners.  Yeah, it's great that the songs all sound different, but where does it go?  Nowhere.  And fast.

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