The Most Serene Republic Underwater Cinematographer

One thing is immediately clear when listening to The Most Serene Republic's debut album, Underwater Cinematographer: these guys have tried very hard to write some original songs.

After an instrumental, one-and-a-half-minute opener, the first real song, "Content Was Always My Favorite Color," literally assails the listener with one hook after another. The last time a song contained this many rhythm changes was on Springsteen's The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle. The track starts off somewhat grandiose: synthesizer, drumbeat, three vocal lines. One minute into the song, the music fades, making room for what will prove itself to be one of Republic's favorite sounds: handclaps. The void is quickly filled with the frantic strumming of a guitar, exploding drums, and a nervous piano line. Before the song is over, there will be another change, during which a distorted guitar and the synthesizer make their reappearance. Disorienting? Somewhat, yes. Over the top? Definitely. But it also happens to be an effective introduction to what is to come.

The second song, "(Oh) God," is more straightforward. Trying less hard than the first song, "(Oh) God" hits home because of its simple yet heart-tugging lyrics and its performance. When vocalist Adrian Jewett cries out "Oh my God," it is somehow one of the most exhilarating moments you will have heard all year. "The Protagonist" slows down midway in the form of an erratic and long-stretched solo. "Proposition 61" features more handclaps, whereas "Where Cedar Nouns and Adverbs Walk," after nicking a line from "Hey, Jude," ends with the entire band chanting, "I think we all know the words."

This first half of the record is immediately rewarding. It's unpredictable and keeps the listener on his or her feet. Things start to go wrong, however, with "In Places, Empty Spaces." The song features a very pretty melody, interspersed with little bleeps, but some twenty-five minutes into the album, Jewett's cutesy lyrics ("I've got a box of nice crayons / Pick a color and it's yours") and his thin-as-ice vocals, which in some songs get all but lost in the mix, start to become wearisome. Constant change, of course, is a form of repetition as well. Republic's approach to songwriting eventually becomes more like a gimmick rather than a sincere effort: they deliver one tempo change after another, pianos-on-steroids, songs featuring three interweaving vocal lines. The two shortest tracks on the album, "Relative's Eyes" and "King of No One," are placed at the end, and they're both utterly forgettable. They are only somewhat redeemed by the closing track, "You're a Loose Cannon, McArthur."

The first six tracks on Underwater Cinematographer would have made an excellent EP. As an album, however, it falls flat because, once you've heard the first few tracks and you're familiar with the type of songs this band writes, there really isn't anything different about the rest of the album. As a debut album, it's partially successful, because it shows a young band full of exuberance and a love for playing music. For a follow-up album, maybe they'll tone down and take the time to develop their melodies. We should hope that they haven't used up all their hooks.

- Deniz Kuypers