Library Nation ought to have been a solid, fun, indie hip-hop
album. Instead, the Evil Tambourines' debut is a mess, full of
groove-killing flourishes and dull avant additions.
The duo rapper Tobias Flowers and instrumentalist Andy Poehlman
do fine on their own. Though not exactly groundbreaking,
they're more than just workmanlike, college-radio hip-hop. Album
opener "13,000 Times Bigger Than the Earth" has a great
four-on-the-floor thump and speedy raps atop Ummah-esque chiming
keyboards. It kick starts the record and is nicely set-off by
"My Dream Girl Puts On Her Shoes" (RealAudio excerpt), a relaxed, graceful tune that
slides into a long instrumental break peppered by trumpets and sitar.
Thereafter, though, things fall apart.
Producer Al Larsen (of Some Velvet Sidewalk) starts poking his head
into things. By the end of the record, he's provided more lead vocals
than Flowers pumping his slacker whine into nearly half the
tracks, sounding like a discount Beck, sans flow. Poehlman tries
gamely to keep things moving, but he's sabotaged by weird breaks and
Larsen's wobbly sing-rapping.
Maybe the duo didn't mind, but it sounds as if they were co-opted by
an overzealous producer. "And We Get High and We Elope" has a great
chugging groove, but Larsen's voiceover hurls it off track. Ditto
"Library Nation" (RealAudio excerpt) and "On Mars and Venus."
It's baffling, more than anything else. Why with Flowers' good,
if not awe-inspiring lyrical skills did the band let Larsen
warble all over the record?
Luckily they close the LP before a dull "bonus" track, that
is with "Rollerskate!" (RealAudio excerpt), a track that would have been completely
at home on, say, the DC Cab soundtrack. Featuring drumming by
Built to Spill's Scott Plouf and the Hi Fi Killers' John Horn on bass
and guitar, the good-time vibe very nearly redeems the rest of the
record's missteps. It's nostalgic without being sentimental, a
worthy addition to jukeboxes everywhere.
Pity that flavor couldn't have been the rule rather than the
exception on Library Nation. Perhaps the Evil Tambourines will
break away for their next effort and make the hip-hop record their
debut ought to have been.