Summer Hymns – Backward Masks

Summer Hymns - Backward MasksSummer HymnsBackward Masks (Misra)

Finding a balance between subtlety and just hammering a point home can be a difficult thing. To put it a different way: when Wayne Coyne sings a song, there’s typically some grandiose production behind it to make the simplistic lyrics seem deeper than they actually are on paper. Summer Hymns’ fourth full length, Backward Masks, is filled with Coyne-esque musings and similar vocal styles, but it also neglects the studio tan that the Flaming Lips are notorious for.

Depending on the track, and depending on the amount of time you spend listening to Backward Masks, it ends up being either a blessing or a curse.

Strangely, four years, four separate studios and up to fifteen different musicians went into the creation of the album only to have it sound like it was cut from the same unadorned cloth of an early rehearsal. It’s a trait that I wish the Flaming Lips would try again, but it’s something that seems to hinder Summer Hymns in reaching those ostentatious heights that, perhaps, they should have been striving for in those years it took them to determine the direction Backward Masks ultimately would take.

Seriously, I’ve spend the last two months trying to listen to, and subsequently review this album, only to find myself distracted by track 5 or 6 that I’ve got chores to do, errands to run, or other albums to consider. With that being said, Backward Masks stood out enough for me to keep returning to it, looking for that glimpse of significance that it never quite manages to achieve.

The moment I realized that forcing myself to re-listen to the album wasn’t going to change my opinions about it was the moment that I started to examine those tracks that did seem to stand out and consider Backward Masks wasn’t necessarily a bad album, just one that, well, didn’t stand out at all.

“Start Swimming” (mp3), one of those more noticeable tracks, begins with an acoustic guitar before Zachary Gresham empathizes with “I know your heart is tired from loving / I know your brain is tired, fast-forward thinking” before attempting to convince whoever to keep on moving forward. The trouble is, while he’s advising the down-and-outer to “Jump in… Start swimming again” he sounds just as broken as the one he’s trying to inspire. Three minutes into it, the band finally heats things up with some nice distortion and pounding piano accents which is exactly the kind of excitement the rest of the album needs.

“Pheromones Induced,” actually sounds like a different studio was used for its creation (the other tracks are sonically identical) with swirling guitar chimes and some trance-inducing vocals is. This track, along with “Fearanoia,” “14 Inches Of Snow,” and the forlorn album closer “When The Bombs Fall” stand as the most recognizable tracks in an otherwise faint album that needs more to place it ahead of your own “honey do” list for the day.

Tempos tread wearily throughout, vocals seldom go beyond an aching whimper, and the arrangements create about as much excitement as watching the grass wilt in a Georgia draught. Backward Masks ends up making the listener wish that, during the four year recording process, there was someone behind the scenes to make some thunder happen.

MP3s: “Pity and Envy” and “Start Swimming”. More.

One thought on “Summer Hymns – Backward Masks”

  1. I loved their first two albums. The third saw them moving down this bland path, and after a couple of listens I have little desire to listen more.

    What happened to that clever band with the lush backwoods psychadelia sound?

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