Fed 'til We're Dead
Independent release, 2004
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/15/2005
From the first thrumming, pulsating, impossibly dense seconds of this album, you can tell The Ten Pound Factor is aiming to be just a little bit different.
Imagine the drive and innate melodic sense of Cheap Trick matched with the lush, almost symphonic production of a Brian Wilson extravaganza and you'd be in the neighborhood. It's cotton-candy rock, bells and guitars and throbbing power-pop arrangements that open out into soaring vistas of sound.
Calling The Ten Pound Factor a band would be a bit of a misnomer, though. The group consists entirely of Ryan Chisholm (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion, songwriting, engineering & production) and Chris Chisholm (drums). Thus the quality of the album pretty much rests on Ryan's shoulders -- and that is the story of the rise and fall of The Ten Pound Factor.
Bookending the album, the opening "Our Philosophy" matches up well with the closing "Sitting Up Tonight," a propulsive number whose muscular guitars and sweet melodies never let up. "Are You Rollin'" and "Into Outer Space" have strong moments as well, with drive to spare and entertaining dynamics.
For all its surface appeal, though, this album suffers from a severe bout of -- of all things -- taking itself too seriously. The music and lyrics seem like mismatched cousins, buffed-out melodies paired up with lyrics that seem to have been cribbed from a series of second-rate self-help manuals. "Things are changing for me / I can feel it / Can you?" goes the close to "Now," though it isn't perhaps as cringe-worthy as "Where do I go / Where can I find meaning I don't know / Where can I find the reasons I search for / Where can I find feeling not alone." I don't know, but how about not calling me back until you get there, 'kay?
This was the lyric that officially killed this album for me, though: "I know a place divided by culture / Both have much hate for one another / If they'd just come together to find a solution / And begin by using communication." The sentiment is worthy, but compared to a song that actually tries to grapple with the subtleties of these kinds of issues in a thoughtful, evocative way (see Bruce Springsteen's "Worlds Apart" off The Rising) this sounds like a rejected Hallmark card. (And the cadence when he sings "communication"… jeez. Let's just say matching a five-syllable word to a four-beat melody is the songwriter's equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard.)
Chisholm clearly wants to break out of the pack with this unlikely combination of thick, dreamy melodies and dime-store philosophizing, but the effect on these ears is jarring. Disconnecting music from storytelling, and substituting platitudes for characters and situations, feels to me like an artistic dead end.
To be fair, Fed 'Til We're Dead *sounds* great, and suggests that Ryan Chisholm has much potential as a player, arranger and producer. It's the words, man… it's the words.