REVIEW: Spokane: Measurement
Spokane: Measurement [Jagjaguwar, 2003] (mp3s)
Three words? hitting rock bottom
The human emotional spectrum is a truly awe-inspiring enigma. As I sit hear and listen to Fear Factory's industrial/death metal re-mix record, Remanufacture, I am inundated with bits and blasts of self bias resistors that are no doubt a product of random chance/non-chance encounters with hurt and pain. The four males who comprise the band collected their personal tales of dystopia and channelled that extreme angst into a breakthrough sound, one which pushed boundaries through the mid-late '90s. Spokane, on the other hand (to say the absolute least), takes its unique brand of random chance/non-chance encounters with the hurt/pain/dystopia triumvirate and also creates an extreme sound; however, its extremity is found in its borderline silence rather than the nuclear bomb of savagery that is Fear Factory.
That being said, Spokane isn't the mellowest band I've ever encountered (Ulver's minimalist work circa Silencing The Singing is), but the group comes close. Measurement is an exercise in incredibly soft sadcore, the type of tunes that are products of hitting complete rock bottom. It's difficult to imagine listening to Spokane with the lights on. Experiencing these songs during the day seems even more unfathomable.
There's a lot to like on Measurement. The collection has an almost angelic quality to it -- the tracks are so gentle that you feel as though they might break apart and falter at any moment. I'm reminded of the American Analog Set during most of Spokane's record, and the extremely effective use of xylophone by both groups further increases the similarity. But, where the American Analog Set truly shines due to its mellow and its songcraft ("The Kindness Of Strangers" is one of the greatest three minutes excursions I've ever been part of), Spokane's song writing hints at bits of formula by the end of the album. Though only 33 minutes, Measurement seems longer because of the repetitive nature of what's enclosed.
Things with Spokane are slightly funny though, and that's because while listening I find myself screaming equal part "Album of the year!" and "Woah... this is weak." That kind of dichotomy only comes from art that provokes (aka good art), so in a sense Spokane can't be blamed. However, what the band can definitely be faulted for is the vocal interplay between Rick Alverson and Courtney Bowles. The male/female dual lead can be extremely effective: this both-sides-of-the-same-coin axiom has produced winning results in the past (the debut from The Postal Service comes to mind). However, on Measurement it often sounds as if Alverson and Bowles aren't in the same range nor even in tune with each other. Things, evidently, go awry.
The album is broken in half by "An Ideal History", a song that centres around a musical box and a borderline apocalyptic sound effect. The idea is an interesting one, but Aphex Twin has done it too (1999's "Nannou"). Further, Measurement's shoegaze credo reeks of a toned down My Bloody Valentine -- listen to "Cities" and tell me that melody wasn't found on Loveless. And that's sort of where Spokane ultimately lies: an amalgam of parts fabricating the American Analog Set, and cut from the inspirational cloth of The Postal Service and Aphex Twin.