Friday, December 23, 2011

Album Review: Build Us Airplanes - At the End of the Day

Album Rating: B
San Francisco's Bay Area seems like a seriously awesome place to live. Its scenery and general aesthetic as a metropolitan area - from the Golden Gate Bridge to the long-legged girls of UC Berkeley; from Richardson Bay in the north to the fact that there is an actual patch of land known as Treasure Island a little further south - everything about the region comes off as borderline ideal. Some of the country's highest per capita income levels, film-site of The Princess Diaries (arguably a young, awkward Anne Hathaway's finest moment), delicious/nutritious seafood, a well-behaved climate - point is, growing up in or near San Francisco sounds like a pretty unreal deal.

Yet despite the immense wealth and well-being of the area, San Francisco isn't just a bunch of uppity white folks bragging about yacht measurements and vineyard acreage. The Bay maintains one of the country's most liberal governing schemes and is home to a highly cultured society, specifically one which helped fuel the onset of American punk in the 70's as iconic groups like Operation Ivy and Dead Kennedys burst onto the scene. More recently erupting, or at least tamely crawling, onto this same scene is Vacaville's Build Us Airplanes, four semi-crusty dudes just trying to get their voices heard amongst the din of the big city. Following in the wake of some of the 90's finest indie acts, from Jawbox to Archers of Loaf, Build Us Airplanes deliver crisp alt-rock jams with all the punk rock sensibilities one would expect from the region's stew of liberal influences. Though not their first release, At the End of the Day sees Build Us Airplanes establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in any underground scene via dirty-fingernail songwriting and the precise execution stemming from a group of kids playing the songs they like with the people they love.

Now, dropping half a dozen band names and "influences" doesn't say a whole lot about an upcoming group, and might even go so far as to imply a certain triteness in their craft. In a way, Build Us Airplanes fail to dodge the repercussions of mimicking a lost decade's sound, but that's the road they've chosen and they obviously have no qualms about sticking to it. Most of the tracks on At the End of the Day really would sound perfectly in place on any number of iconic 90's records. 'Folding Up', with its vocals as saturated in angst as its guitars in drive and distortion, might just be a perfect addendum song for Dear You, while 'On And On' features the same discomforting and bittersweet closure as half the tracks on Icky Mettle. Even with a sound so reminiscent of a now defunct generation, Build Us Airplanes execute with enough sincerity and poise to drive their music and message into any given listener's head. Acrid resentment hangs on every word of 'Stand Alone' as relentless instrumentation drives the cacophony into a spectacularly dismal finish. Though frontman Richard Russell feels so inclined to whine and croon and cower through a line like "I feel so old and tired," it's all the more forgivable upon realizing just how much the twenty-something year old really means it. And at the end of the day, At the End of the Day is an exhausted record; exhausted not in the sense that it's already been done, but instead in how the band leaves everything they have on it.

With that in mind, it becomes that much easier to forget the record's dull moments. Sure, the guitar solo at the start of 'The Road Home' comes off as just a little too deliberate - just self-aware enough of its existence as a void-filling guitar solo to sound forced, self-conscious, and otherwise underwhelming - but perhaps it's just a reflection of its designer's own lifetime shortcomings. Maybe a couple choruses in here have been written a dozen too many times before, but they do that much more to highlight where Build Us Airplanes shines brightest. At the End of the Day most likely isn't a record that you'll need to make room for in your end-of-the-year list. Rather, it is a tribute to the haze and daze of a recently passed era of music; a non-pretentious appeal to its listeners to appreciate the art of skilled craftsmen creating the soundscapes that they know best.

Bandcamp (with full album stream)

Track List:
1. Running Song
2. Folding Up
3. The Road Home
4. Salt In The Wounds
5. Lost Son
6. On And On
7. Stand Alone
8. Everything Out Of Me
9. Greener Pastures
10. Your Disguise
11. Old Sparks
12. Strings

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