The great American baseball player Satchel Paige was known as much for his pitching as he was for his oftentimes witty quotes. “Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you,” is one that has always stuck with me. It’s almost as if one could delineate our culture by drawing a line between those who choose to let the past serve as the way to shape their future and those who only think of tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow. Both sides have their advantages of course, and one could pointlessly and endlessly argue the merit of one over the other.
Why the history lesson? It has to do with Oklahoma City indie trio Limber Limbs. The band released their piano-pop and string sodden debut, People, People back in 2010, followed by a self-titled EP two years later. According to the band they took a self-inflicted hiatus in order to figure out what exactly it was they wanted to sound like from that point forward.
The result of this hiatus is Limber Limbs’ second full-length record Retrospection an album of “10 snapshots” from events experienced by singer, guitarist and pianist Ben Bowlware’s life. Judging from the darkly coded song titles it was not a particularly banner year for old Ben. Retrospection opens with the bouncy piano driven rock ballad “Misdirection.” It took more than a handful of listens until I was finally able to get into it, or rather understand its structure which, like most of the songs on the album are not constructed simply; the bridges are loose and songs change direction darting the exact opposite way in which you would expect them to. The two successive songs, “Deranged” and “Bury Me” pretty much keep to this same un-patterned pattern of the piano driven power ballad.
I was thrown for a very beautiful loop when “Honestly” kicked in with taut bass and drums serving as the song’s backbone. But what really made the song for me was the introduction of a female vocalist, whose beautiful voice pairs perfectly with Bowlware’s lounge act vocals. It provided a much-needed dynamic to its static precursors’.
“My Tragedy” starts out strange and funky, and then slips back into piano ballad mode, and then back to odd and funky before again turning back into mellow piano rock, which by this point in the record has become a bit too repetitive. The piano and vocals are often so prominently featured that I found myself wondering why bother to use guitars and drums at all. I had hoped to hear more songs like “You Know It” a slow building experiment that goes out in a blistering fugue of guitar, bass and drums, (no piano) and which along with “Honestly” is one of the best songs on the album. To prove I don’t hate the piano, because I honestly don’t, it works very well accompanied with the woodwinds and Queen-like arias on “Bannerless Son,” as well as the introspective closer “Retrospective” where the piano is soft and brittle, and doesn’t try to breakout to the forefront, overshadowing everything in its wake.
For Limber Limbs, Retrospection seems in many ways like a natural progression from their earlier work towards growing their sound something, which can often times takes several records to accomplish. Retrospection does exhibit growth on many tracks, though it seems hindered by its polemic theme of trying to make sense of the past by writing songs in a style meant to lead the band into its future. At times it proves to be just a little bit too much of a stretch for Limber Limbs to pull off.
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