The Life and Times
The Flat End of the Earth
54'40' or Fight!
Rumours abounded as to what music Allen Epley would make after the demise of Shiner. While speculations ranged from acoustic singer/songwriter material to electronica, the unexpected answer is The Life And Times a meandering indie rock outfit not so entirely different from where he's been before.
As with Shiner, the root of each song can be traced back to Epley. While the presence of new bandmates Mike Myers (of The String and Return) and John Meredith (ex-Someday I) are undoubtedly felt, it may be of greater significance to The Life And Times' sound that Epley's Shiner bandmates (and their noisy, rock leanings) are not present.
The six songs of The Flat End Of The Earth are lazy. They drift organically as if rolling on oceanic waves. There are only small troughs of contemplation equaled by small crests of release nothing is overdone. In fact it may take a few listens before you're able to discern anything is being done at all. Allowing yourself to float on these waves is easy and natural. It is, however, not cerebral. The songs are low-concept, low-impact, and low- effort. The sort of offerings you can expect from a fledgling band eager to have their debut available before their first tour.
While the songs are passively enjoyable and texturally interesting, very little stands out. There are no grandiose moments on this disc. It's unfortunate that Allen's voice seldom snaps out of the reserved, lazy whine, because we know he is capable of delivering the energy this record needs. The staccato drumming of Mike Myers is easily the most interesting element of the disc; however, it never provides energy, just momentary diversion from its lackluster surroundings.
The album's high point is the aptly named "High Scores." While neither the song nor its structure varies much from its surroundings, it contains the enthusiasm the other tracks lack. Tricky percussion and an atypically urgent longing in Epley's voice dominate the verses of "High Scores." Its choruses build to the EP's biggest highs, and the release is memorable. At that juncture, when the angularisms and broken chords are set aside and Meredith's guitar revs alongside of Epley's, the song has a pleasant Foo Fighters feel to it that anyone can embrace.
For those who appreciate the lackadaisical elements of the band, the closer (and title track) offers a plodding, orchestrated dirge replete with cello and keyboards. While short on energy, a particularly aggressive guitar does hold the doldrums at bay, as well as affording the rare opportunity for drums to simply crash and for Epley to approach full voice. If it weren't for the song's collapsing finish just before the five-minute mark, one could imagine how the song might continue into a sprawling Sigur Ros-like composition.
These moments of happiness aside, the band's debut is simply uninspiring and uninspired. It contains occasional flashes of interest and sonic fulfillment, but it never delivers on any of the promises. Of course, this is the debut EP of a band who has spent only six months together, and never had the defining experiences of traveling together in a ninety-five degree van on the verge of disaster. Hopefully, those coming trials and triumphs will inject some needed life into The Life and Times.