With his new album YES!!, perky indie-pop superstar-in-his-own-mind Chris Knox comes up with creative, energetic ways to explore mediocrity as an art form unto itself. Rather than seek out new musical territory, Knox revels in cliched, annoying formulas slapped together to form a pastiche of generic major chord mayhem. YES!! does succeed in pushing limits--for instance, those of compact disc space capacity. Knox man-ages to pack more than 70 minutes of his special brand of grating, '80s-obsessed, painfully simplistic pop stylings onto a single disc.
The effort is wholly Knox's own; he played all of the instruments, recorded the tracks himself at home on a Tascam 8-track and even designed the cover art--which, incidentally, is as basic, childish and irksome as the album itself.
Unfortunately, a little less innovation on the technical side and more musical craft would go a long way. In fact, any number of improvements would--less inane lyrics, for example. Knox not only commits the traditional (and acceptable) pop crime of writing terrible, trite lyrics, he structures his songs (all 14 of them) such as to place special emphasis on his meager voice and lyrics. The spare arrangements simply highlight the artist's severe limitations as a vocalist and lyricist.
Some songs on the album are far more bearable than others, and a few may even be classified as vaguely enjoyable. The perky "Backstab Boofie," has a charming exuberance and, since the lyrics are quite unintelligible, is not as embarrassing to listen to as typical YES!! fare. There's nothing wrong with pithy lyrics and limited vocal abilities--check out Cibo Mat-to--but such an approach needs to be tempered by some skilled irony in the delivery. Knox takes himself so seriously that he is dragged into a pit of self-involvement from which there is no escape. Knox is clearly in trouble delivering a line like, "There's love and there's lust/and there's a fine line between them," as if it were a revelation.
Knox's sound revolves around primitive Casio drumbeats, trebly guitars overdriven to the point of mushiness and his own strident warbling. Many of the tunes are based on progressions so simple that the verse and chorus are actually sung against the same set of chords--a technique which results in mind-numbing, repetitive songs. Almost every track also contains some old-school synth rhythms which, when used over and over again, quickly start to sound hackneyed rather than inventive.
Knox must have realized at some point during the recording process that he was essentially laying down the same track 14 times in a row. In order to address this problem, he chose, rather than to actually alter song structures or arrangements, to sprinkle in a couple of choice sound effects. After all, nothing spruces up a drab song like some bagpipes or a nifty sampled siren or alarm clock.
YES!! suffers from such overwhelming uniformity that any deviation from the mid-tempo indie-pop blueprint established early on in the album is at least a brief treat for the listener. The bizarre lullaby "Gold," for instance, breaks up the monotony, as does the mildly groovy "Engaged." After a few moments of Knox's self-important crooning, the sad truth becomes clear: the slow songs suck, too.
Towards the end of the album, things really begin to fall apart. The songs get longer and lose the one thing that made them at all compelling in the first place: pop song structure. Without verse-cho-rus-verse (or, in some cases on YES!!, chorus-chorus-chorus), Knox is completely lost. The final 18-minute track is a masturbatory opus of noise, static and tape and synth-looped sound effects.
Along with the final track, the album is completely devoid of emotional content--a record of a man sitting in a room pushing buttons. Knox has a healthy urge to experiment, but when his self-indulgent nature takes over completely, the result isn't pretty.
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