People in Planes | Beyond the Horizon (Wind Up)

cd_people-in-planes.jpgThese seem to be inspired offerings, but they are so saturated with elements, energy and ideas that the only connecting thread is Gareth Jones’ voice,

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a few bands that have an album I can play for people and have utter confidence they will be impressed. As Far As the Eye Can See by People in Planes was such an album. Beyond the Horizon, their new release, is a trickier proposition. It’s a cool set of tunes with lots of little sidesteps and sleight of hand quirks that give this record personality, unlike a lot of what I hear on a regular basis. I can’t help feeling that there’s an element to Beyond the Horizon that’s going to be lost on the target market with this record. It has a late-’80s aftertaste. Not a "hair metal" late-’80s aftertaste, a pre-grunge, post-new wave pensiveness—you know, an Afghan Whigs/Depeche Mode type of vibe. Better said, it’s pulling from a period before a lot of kids’ times and sounds like the best work of bands with a glass—albeit darkly tinted—ceiling.

A lazy critic would just say the stylistic choices of the band harkens back to Radiohead’s The Bends, with its genre-melding production values. As much as a lot of Gen X’ers love that type of thing, I have a hard time justifying the Def Leppard-like, individually added layer upon layer arrangements, topped off with larger-than-life hooks. The real truth is that most Gen X’ers grew up on Def Leppard anyway, so who are we fooling? The thing is, this album is for Generation Y, as in, "Why should I pay for this music?" For those who are put off by that sort of thing, try driving 70 mph with People in Planes on the stereo as the sun sets. I wouldn’t recommend driving to this record after dark; highway hypnotism is almost guaranteed.

Then again there’s the first single that came out this spring, "Pretty Buildings." Piano, handclaps, an excellent sing-song melody—it’s an effort worthy of Queen (well, the version fronted by Robbie Williams), complete with a nice hook, a huge bridge and a crescendo/outro that is ridiculously massive. It’s bombastic and impressive, but it’s unique among the other tunes, standing out as the completion of an album-length brainstorm that showed up seven months before said album’s release and four tracks into the actual song cycle.

As each song builds to its climax, a sort of numbness sets in. People in Planes put their songs together very well, but everyone else has attempted to write these sorts of rock songs with these sorts of hooks so poorly for so long, they feel worn out by mere association. Ironically, these seem to be inspired offerings, but they are so saturated with elements, energy and ideas that the only connecting thread is Gareth Jones’ voice—which is excellent—but the material just doesn’t stay with you. It seems that along the way they lost a little swagger, and to overcompensate by standing out makes you look clownish. The songs don’t seem to have as much pep this go around, and still People in Planes unleash the gargantuan chorus you’ve come to expect. It feels unjustified, which kind of ruins the effect after a while.

The production nicks a bit of hip-hop ("Get on the Flaw"), trip-hop ("Tonight the Sun Will Rise") and jazzy vibes ("I Wish You Would Fall Apart"). Each tune comes back to the heart of People in Planes: rock, like an inverted Tootsie Pop of sorts. If they weren’t one of the better hard rock bands out, it wouldn’t work at all. At their worst, it’s like they’ve taken an Aston Martin and slapped Knight Rider lights on the grille. It seems like it’s adding character, but really just a distraction at times. It’s like that clichéd lesson from Teen Wolf:You’re already cool, even if you’re sick of the way you look or sound and want to spice it up. Different doesn’t equal better, it’s just a change. Change doesn’t always equal growth. You can hear growth on standout tracks "Pretty Buildings," "I Wish You’d Fall Apart" and "Evil With You." No monumental leaps, just positive moves forward—but at this rate, will they survive in the digital age?

I love that there are still bands like this coming out, but I don’t watch MTV, shop at the mall or own an iPod. I, like People in Planes, am not retro, but not modern enough to make the kind impression needed to register on the blogosphere’s radar. For better or worse, they aren’t arty enough to be counter culture. What does that leave for People in Planes? They aren’t by any means mediocre, they are definitely good, and had they come out 10 years ago, they could have saved rock ‘n’ roll back when it needed saving…but for now, Beyond the Horizon seems to lie in purgatory. Thus you have an above average band with a good album at a time when, sans a big hit (or a keen placement deal on a hit TV series or film), artists are commercially dead in the water. Anything beyond a cottage industry is all they have left to look forward to—but whoever said life is fair? B- | Willie E. Smith

RIYL: Doves, Incubus, Fiction Plane

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