July 4, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: The Charmes - The Charmes (2012)

The Charmes’ self-titled LP wraps up a modern day version of garage rock with airtight austerity, its sheer energy apparent and solid right from the opening buzzsaw guitars of “You Gotta Be Kidding Me” to the angsty demeanor of “Plastic Scissors.” If this were early 2000s, it could have been gobbled up into a hypestorm, where they might be placed as top shelf guys responsible for the sudden resurgence of rock music filtered in fun, traditional style: stripped off synths and looping samples, no reverb-laden effects, zero laptop tricks. Just pure, dirty riffing monsters about to herald the second coming of Stones, Stooges and Velvet Underground.

Apparently, it’s not how things were leashed in perspective. Garage rock revival went passĂ©. The Strokes devolved from being dubbed as “saviors of rock n’ roll” to becoming self-confessed floptards having a hard time recreating the success that was Is This It. The Libertines, The Hives, and other “The” bands ghosted to oblivion, leaving us for ‘duh’ sake, a one-hit album that’s better left off the shelf than revisited. The Charmes, a Manila-based band signed to Toti Dalmacion’s Terno Recordings label, debuts their new record with an output resembling the aforementioned bands’ music, eager to prove that scruffy, garage rock revival didn’t die without a fight. Their sonic direction still remains shamelessly aware of its influence: late ‘70s garage/punk, melodic hooks, angular guitar riffs, post-punk stomps. And the production employed in the self-titled album is stripped raw, conveying a less-is-more aesthetic with a tantalizing promise of even better things to come. All praises said, The Charmes comes up with an Arctic Monkeys-meets-The Strokes kind of kitchen-sink blend that you don’t feel sorry to have existed this late.

Assembling a pocketful of accessible guitar rock tunes from a starry-eyed lover’s perspective, The Charmes reaches through our hearts with a preceding aura of earnestness and vulnerability, one that must have sprung from personal foibles and experiences. “In This Hotel” and “Turn You On,” both standouts in their own right, testify to their songwriting strengths and undeniable flair for songs that mend your heart and break it afterwards. “Will my heart ever learn? You make it torn apart like any other heart,” cries Brian Josef on “It’s Your Heart I Don’t Trust.” It’s deliberate and honest that it felt like an anthem you’d put your shoes on and sing to. “Love On the Other End” fuels heartbreak, disillusionment, frustration, and scathing wit with a jump-in-the-air pounding that resonates within the story’s big picture. It’s their ambition for incisive, heart-cutting lyrics that actually makes these songs more addictive, with each repeated play a joy that’s priceless.

Unfortunately, some songs (“Worth A Mile,” “New Day,” “Forget Me Not” to name a few) don’t quite live up to the expectations set by the stand out tracks. Either it drags down on occasion because it does sound like a rehashed version of their other songs or its inimitable appeal causes a slight lull in the consistency of the record. On a form like this, however imperfect, The Charmes still hit most of the targeted bullets at its full range, with the flaws covered up completely by the band’s youthful enthusiasm and indelible songcraft. Had they taken the time to iron out these minor concerns this could have been an exceptional record. Well, most things in life aren’t perfect. Why bother?   B 

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