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 Music Review: ''The Upstairs Chronicles'' by Almost Famous
Almost Famous may not win a Grammy Award for their CD, "The Upstairs Chronicles", but they get my vote for "Most Patience With an Online Indie Publication While Awaiting a Stupid Review" (I'm afraid to even look at the post-mark on that envelope). In any case, this eight-song debut is the result of the trio's foray into pop music while matriculating at The University of Michigan - that liberal bastion of affirmative action and war protestations that I would donate my kidneys to attend. Is my envy showing? On to the review...

Band: Almost Famous
CD: The Upstairs Chronicles (debut)
Released: November, 2002
Members: Ben Diesel (lead vocals and guitar), David J. Yu (guitar and noises), Charlie Naebeck (bass & vocals).
Additional drumming: Lindsay Williams
Management: Ruth Naebeck for Ntertainment Group, Inc.

The Praise

The Upstairs Chronicles by Almost Famous is a musical account of what band members Ben Diesel, David J. Yu and Charlie Naebeck created in Naebeck's upstairs practice space over the course of a year while attending The University of Michigan. Understanding that goes a long way toward the enjoyment of this disc. Think of it as a musical scrapbook. an eclectic mix of testosterone-free, campus-flavored indie pop that includes gushing love-songs like "First Day" (track one), infectious power-pop numbers such as "Placebo" (track two) and even an ethereal and synthetically pleasing number called "Planets" (track four - listen to Planets at mp3.com).

The best moments on The Upstairs Chronicles are seasoned with a dry sense of humor (think of The Violent Femmes) ; I laughed out loud when I first listened to the meta-lyrical (i.e. a lyric that is aware of itself as a lyric) "440 Hertz" (see lyrics ), which asks the burning question, 'What can I say that's meaningful in just 22 syllables / I'm down to fourteen and nothing yet / I should have been an architect.' In "Napster" (track 6) Diesel sings, "If I spend more than 15 minutes in this room, my brain will explode....got a fast connection to Napster and...a predilection towards piracy...I got 12 beers in me and I just wanna hurl".

The Punch

This disc begins with a sappy, albeit heartfelt, ode to matrimony entitled "First Day" (as in, 'today is the first day of the rest of our lives') that exhibits the trio's ability to harmonize nicely, but lyrically, paints them into a corner with the inescapable and inappropriate use of the word "Today". The song's selection as the opening track may cause you to disregard the CD before you get to the real meat (in my opinion, "Placebo", "Planets" and particularly "Bubbles") . Additionally, the band and their management (Naebeck's young wife, Ruth) have chosen "First Day" as the single to promote. Personally, I'd opt for "Bubbles" (See Lyrics ) which highlights the band's keen sense of humor and is the most natural sounding song on the disc. But I can guess why Ruth may be attached to "First Day." You be the judge, listen to a sample of "First Day". (editor's Note: According to manager Ruth, First Day was chosen as the single by the Almost Famous street team via online poll.)

As a musical product, "The Upstairs Chronicles" is a bit disappointing. A fuzzy cover-photo of the boys in feigned repose is the first clue that this CD lacks sophistication. Bad band portraits on CD covers don't inspire you to reach for your wallet. But packaging can be changed - even after a release. Hey, widget companies do it all the time to increase sales and to change a product's image. The band's fixation with penguins (yes, penguins) should inspire something more appropriate to their sense of humor.

The production quality on this disc is hit or miss (the quality of the boy's home-grown mixes are often better than those produced in a studio), and sounds better through a cheap pair of headphones than a home stereo set-up . The recording suffers from a presence that screams "home studio project completed one track at a time" that robs it of vitality, especially from the more energetic tracks such as "Placebo" and "Pins & Needles" that deserve a full band recording together in a live-room.

Finally, the lack of a consistent, dedicated drummer in this project is painfully noticeable. Apparently, they've been working on filling this slot for some time.

Conclusion

Consider "The Upstairs Chronicles" the first chapter in a book on becoming "Almost Famous", wherein the characters are introduced but the plot and the writer's voice have yet to be fully revealed. If they're serious about the music business as a career (i.e. if there's permanent, irreversible damage), I'd be interested in following the band as they mature. The casual brilliance and humor of "Bubbles" and the arrangement on "Planets" warrants further investigation of this band. But if this is just an undergraduate flirtation with pop music, an experiment by three college boys who, if they achieve a prestigious degree from The University of Michigan, will look back on this disc as a juvenile flirtation with music on their way to achieving McMansions in the 'burbs - well, I suppose that would be fine too.

- Mitch


Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2003 @ 07:41:53 EST by chief editor
Topic: Music Reviews
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