Fanboy disappointed: Local ‘geek rock’ group crash lands on freshman effortWritten by Brian Bohnert | | email@example.com
Although their feet may be firmly planted on Earth’s soil, the members of “geek rock” collective My Special Agent clearly have their sights set way beyond the stars.
Heavily influenced by comic books, science fiction and The History Channel, Liz Owens Boltz (vocals, guitar, bass), Brandon Boltz (bass, vocals, guitar), Casey T. Malone (keys, backup vocals) and Mark Fuchs (drums) offer up their own brand of cross-genre, techno rock in their first studio effort.
Released on June 16, 2012, through NoFocus Records, the six-track, self-titled EP throws synthesizers and space-age sound effects into hyper speed, while severely toning down the vocal range in favor of noise. The gender-swapping vocals are a welcome change from the modern frontman/frontwoman-driven norm, but the lyrics create a cliche that makes this release more of a campy concept album than a serious rock offering.
The first track, “Nice Gaius,” loses its potential only seconds into its start. Jazz-infused drums and beeping electro synths start the track, as Owens Boltz’s melodic, mellow voice swirls delicately around the background. Her vocals are soft and refreshing, but they are aggressively overwhelmed by the heavy use of Auto-Tune that comes in strong around the chorus.
While a space-age “Robo Babe” is most likely the desired effect, Owens Boltz instead goes flat under the attention-stealing alteration. Tossing aside the obvious “Battlestar Galactica” reference to Dr. Gaius Baltar, the song is a loud, awkward mess of jazzy drums, misplaced rock guitars and techno sounds fit only for a Windows Media Player demo track.
The second track, “Overdue,” is a decent attempt at a high-energy, indie-rock breakup tune. The deeper, powerful male vocals of Boltz wails in exasperated desperation on lyrics like “I expected more from you, not that you gave me a reason to” and “I’ve seen symptoms before of a madness you couldn’t control” that tells the story of what can only be assumed as the worst breakup this side of the solar system. The heavier guitars work well alongside the accompanying keyboard, but the volume on the recording is often too much to handle and drowns out the lyrics. Like much of this album, the well-rounded vocal talent is forced to compete against the garish, confusing noise of multiple instruments and spacey sound effects.
“Heir,” has a lot to offer lyrically, but the dual-vocals of Boltz and Owens Boltz is not a good combination. The opening push, a tasty offering of mellow guitar picking and melodic drum beats with a swirl of ambience is fit for any peaceful stroll, even Owens Boltz’s voice is a smooth, harmonious complement to the ears as she spills out words like “Tangled tongues, foreign words, dipped in your design.” But the accompaniment of Boltz’s much deeper vocal chords throws the song off at the chorus, leaving it somewhat harder to readjust to the pleasant voice of his female counterpart. This track is by far Owens Boltz’s best performance on the entire album. Her intensity grows, breaking the limitations the song sets with its oft-droning tone.
“Chameleon” is a geek rocker’s dream. The fuzzy, distorted hard rock guitar blends very well with the futuristic swirls and twirls. Boltz’s deep, wavy voice starts off strong in this cosmic, out-of-this-world anthem, but it eventually becomes annoying the longer it drones on. This track, like the many before it, had a ton of potential offerings to comic-con-ers and Dungeon Masters. But once the sounds hit the loop and the vocals grow heavy, the novelty wears thin and the band seems to be trying too hard to fit into the “geek rock” genre. The synthesizers that run rampant throughout this album are overused and underappreciated for their effect. Those looking for a true techno-synth rock album should look into New York indie-rockers Action Action.
Just in time for this summer’s surge of comic-themed films, “Anger/Danger” is a lyrical homage to Marvel’s most “Incredible” green hero. “Alone at last; a trickle of regret runs down my back,” and “Haunted by a future that looks too much like my past … outcast,” digs deep into the tragic life of Dr. Bruce Banner, exploring his constant struggle to balance a normal existence alongside his serious anger management issues. Though the playful, subtle nod to The Hulk loses its temper toward the chorus and throws obvious jabs at the senses with “Integrity betrayed me; body and mind in mutiny. Please don’t make me angry; it’s like a radiation that infects me.”
The lyrics betray this song, forcing the ears to be solely reliant on the music. But, for a change, the music manages to fit the song’s story perfectly. The drums and guitar grow in anger as the good doctor himself does. The sporadic piano keys generate the uneasy, unstable atmosphere Marvel fans know from reading the green one’s books.
Inspired by “Over the Raging Sea We Go,” My Special Agent’s “Sea Chantey” is a novelty pirate cliche at best. Typical for its energetic, upbeat drinking tone and grunting vocals, each of the group’s members tosses their hats into the ring on this disappointing send off.
Clocking in at just over 20 minutes, My Special Agent’s freshman outing offers a lot of potential for the future. All four of the group’s members are very talented and have a lot to offer fans of the genre, but heavy reliance on sci-fi ambience and loud noise dooms this album from its inception. The vocals on both spectrums are well-received, but often lost beneath the synthesizers, loud drums and heavy pop-culture winks.
If you’re looking for an album chock-full of sci-fi references and comic book nods simply to be in on the [not so subtle] jokes, have at it. But if you’re looking for a true testament to “geek rock,” I suggest classics like The Barenaked Ladies or Jimmy Eat World. Geeks deserve good music too, so don’t skimp on the sauce.
** out of 5