It didn’t take long for Mellow Cruisers to appeal. Butter Knives, the follow-up from California’s Audacity, though, seems to be more of a grower.
A band quick-summed-up as power-pop (though that description lacks), the new record seems to miss that one-two punch, earworm aspect. Instead, the songs are a bit more complex, less predictable, and more varied from starter “Couldn’t Hold a Candle” through ender “Autumn.” It’s hard to pinpoint just where Audacity is going which, from an artist’s perspective, is far from an insult. The songs are well written, well varied, and well performed. They just don’t have that authoritative kick that was on its predecessor.
Audacity really draws their distinction in their vocal delivery and in the roughshod take on pop structure. When the songs are a bit cleaner in production, as they are on this record, it loses a little heart in the process. It’s not just a production issue, though. Matt Schmalfeld’s wavering crackle of emotion is subdued throughout this record in favor of a calmer approach. When he lets that wanton emotion through, as in “Couldn’t Hold a Candle” and “Watered Down,” the songs benefit. When the focus is more on a steady tone, as in “Hole in the Sky,” it loses promise. The breakdowns toward the end of this song are brilliant, but overall the song never really gets out of first gear. The same can be said for the repetitive “Red Wine.”
Instead of building off the last record’s strengths, Audacity’s shining moments on Butter Knives are when they try something new. “Pigs” is a faster jam, building on a garage-punk foundation and sneaking a few surfy guitar elements in for flair. “Pick Slide” likewise pulls some subtle surf into the game while sounding reminiscent of a late ‘90s/early ’00s alt-rock song I just can’t place. And in “Cold Rush,” they offer a take on straight pop rock, but with a beach slacker vocal tone, something like a power-pop version of Toys That Kill. It’s not exactly a pop song…but maybe it is?
And that, in a nutshell, is the whole record: borderline pop/borderline finding a direction, but never fully distinguishing itself.
6.8 / 10
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