Unlike the sea captain of the same name, Nemo is not submerged in murky depths. For something conceived in a Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment, Signs of Life
shrugs off the shackles of hipsterdom rather well and isn't afraid of sunny harmonies, uplifting melodies or light, shimmery vocals. The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" is essentially the template for the infectious "Northern Light", and you can smell the Beach Boys, the Kinks, and other '60s popsmiths all over the record. In fact, you can perhaps smell the influences too heavily, and across Signs of Life
's 17 tracks (over just 43 minutes, that's a real marathon), two things emerge: a lack of stylistic consistency and a disconcerting uniformity, if that makes sense. Just trust me on this. In fact, "Aviator" sounds like it may well have been cut off of the Posies' Frosting on the Beater
at the last minute. Too much of a good thing, perhaps, but it's hard to hold it against an album that's so darn listenable.
The lyrics, though, sometimes feel a bit too dense for the musical froth they're mixed into -- imagine tossing peach pits into a sweet, fluffy whipped topping. Amid "Northern Light"'s clattering pop, the meaning of lines like "The struggle of man is tipped against his apology" is obscured. The same goes for the intense "Odyssey", a powerful, thunderous track that weighs down lyrics like "You will be reduced to an amorphous life-form."
Overall, the album wreaths deep musings about eternity, fate, and spirit in a pop-rock garland (the best example of which is the bright, echoey "The Sun of Ulee"). But some of the choruses are remarkably clever gems -- case in point, the refrain to "Lunar Ship to Mars" goes "Like the eye of the needle / I will shake you through / On the eve of destruction / I will see you through." Moments like those are when Signs of Life really comes alive, and the combined talent of the Brooklyn brain trust of Luke McCartney and Dennis Tyhacz really jells. If this is just their debut, I can't wait until they surface again.