First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2007, Volume 14, #2
Written by John Metzger
There certainly are drawbacks to artist-run labels. Often the creative freedom that initially separates them from the major players in the music business has an immense tradeoff, and left unchecked, it inevitably can lead to rampant, experimental pretentiousness. The other issue these sorts of operations typically face is that their owners tend to build their empires around bands that sound too much alike. Of course, there are exceptions, both large and small, to every rule. Take Pagoda, the latest outfit to sign with Ecstatic Peace, the company headed by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, for example. While the similarities to Sonic Youth’s canon are unmistakable, Pagoda’s self-titled debut is more than just another slab of idol-worship. Even so, the collection still exhibits its share of problems, largely because the blend of Sonic Youth and Nirvana that Pagoda has to offer inevitably sounds tamer than it should.
Although jolts of electric guitar feedback alternate with the jagged, slicing stabs of a violin to construct an unnerving, angst-filled ambience, the fuzzy, noise-filled experimentation that cycles through Pagoda's eponymous endeavor largely provides color. Likewise, the melodies not only are immediately apparent, but they also rise and fall in a dynamic fashion that closely echoes the forceful drama of Kurt Cobain’s compositions. At its best, Pagoda pens smartly conceived songs that comment upon the state of the world. Amego, for example, humorously tackles issues of immigration and terrorism, while Fetus is a harrowing tale of abortion and drug abuse. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to shake the notion that Pagoda is infatuated with Sonic Youth’s Dirty. This isn’t a bad place to start, but 15 years after the fact, it’s hardly groundbreaking.
Pagoda is available from
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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