A Night at the Ritz
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2007, Volume 14, #9
Written by John Metzger
Thu September 20, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
It might seem as if Office has sprung out of nowhere, but unlike other up-and-coming, indie-minded bands, most of whom are thrust on the public long before they are ready, the group steadily has been refining its modus operandi since the early part of the current decade. Oddly enough, the project began as a series of sculptures by front man Scott Masson, though it quickly evolved into a music-oriented endeavor. Masson’s solo debut, from which his current outfit has taken its name, was steeped in electronic folk. After moving to Chicago, however, he began ironing out the kinks in his approach, piecing together his present ensemble, and shifting toward a more organic framework for his songs.
Office’s latest effort A Night at the Ritz bears the fruit of Masson’s labors. Although it is the first album from the band to receive widespread distribution, a majority of its contents have been floating in and out of the group’s repertoire for several years. Essentially, it is a reconfiguration of the collective’s independently issued 2005 set Q&A, the title track to which also dates back to Office’s never-released 2004 endeavor Glass Corvette. The nurturing that Masson has given his material is readily apparent.
Refreshingly, Office seems to be taking an old-fashioned approach to the music business, and the group has managed its artistic growth through a careful process of trial and error. Each iteration has been well-tested, and word has spread about the ensemble not because Office sought the immediate and fawning (but ultimately fair-weather) praise of the blogger community but rather because of the reputation it has earned for its well-executed showcases at festivals and industry conferences such as South by Southwest, CMJ, and Lollapalooza as well as its extended engagements at venues like Schubas. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that throughout A Night at the Ritz, Office sounds as fully formed and convincing as the veteran acts it emulates. To be fair, the band has lost a little of the edgy exuberance that typically graces breakthrough endeavors, but what it has gained in terms of polish and focus more than makes up for this deficiency.
There’s little doubt that Office wears its influences boldly on its sleeve. Yet, the group deftly turns this tactic into an advantage. With a dense arrangement and vocals that, at times, are a dead-ringer for Morrissey’s angst-filled crooning, opening cut Oh My, for example, draws direct comparisons to The Smiths. Meanwhile hints of The Cars, Smashing Pumpkins, and John Lennon form the basis of Company Calls. Elsewhere, on Paralyzed Prince, Office straddles the line between Queen and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and it sprinkles touches of Depeche Mode, U2, and The Knack into Wound Up, The Ritz, and The Big Bang Jump!, respectively.
The reason that A Night at the Ritz is so successful, however, is that instead of trying to create an album that closely adheres to the architecture employed by a few of its favorite bands, Office embraces an entire sub-genre of college rock and bends it to its will. Reaching across the decades, the group skips from place to place, following the links that bind its sonic universe together. Rather than milking a single formula to death, Office uses A Night at the Ritz to keep its prospective fans guessing where it might head next, and although the set is hardly a groundbreaking enterprise, its infectious melodies and smartly conceived songs provide a healthy method of escaping from the day-to-day drudgery of modern life.
Of Further Interest...
A Night at the Ritz is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box