Among the tools in any marketing master’s bag lies the feature checklist — a breakdown of all of the must-have aspects of the product, with little green marks running down the side indicating that they are, in fact, present. Dual-core processor? Check. Pre-shrunk cotton? Check. Added vitamins and minerals? Check. For added emphasis, a couple of extra columns featuring competitors’ offerings can be plopped down in the vicinity, with angry red crosses indicating that they just can’t measure up.
You’d be a fool to mix in their special sauce, the implication goes,
when ours clearly has our exclusive Super Flavor Crystals of Awesome™! And who can argue? It says so right there.
maudlin of the Well’s Part the Second would certainly make a good showing in checklist form. Uplifting choral sections? First one’s just three minutes into the album. Heart-tugging string interludes? Handed out like candy. Stadium-filling guitar solos? Pick a random spot on the album — you probably landed in the middle of one. And fans of ridiculously long titles?
Laboratories of the Invisible World (Rollerskating the Cosmic Palmistric Postborder) should satiate your tastes.1 If not,
Excerpt from 6,000,000,000,000 Miles Before the First, or, the Revisitation of the Blue Ghost certainly will.
Unfortunately, feature enumerations also tend to be misleading, for the simple reason that the mentioned perks are often about it as far as the good aspects go. High in fiber? Low in fat? That’s cool, but trying to sell a snack food on those merits when it tastes unpalatably bad is a Sisyphean undertaking.
So goes the issue with Part the Second — for all of the nice moments that are present, the cohesiveness needed to bring it together into a full-blooded album just isn’t there. I have an image of the band sitting down after the recording sessions that produced
Another Excerpt: Keep Light Near You, Even When Dying and ticking off the squares: xylophone, strings, electric guitar, vocals (with a bonus star for gargling effects, no matter how out-of-place they may be). It’s a great way to create back-cover copy, but not actual music.
Inexplicably, this jolting mood, which feels at times like getting pushed around in a fairground bumper car, is accompanied by strains of exactly the opposite problem: long periods of foundation-less rambling, the equivalent of a word association game where no one can remember what the original word was or why they’re even playing. Adding Toby Driver’s lethargic lyrical delivery over these stretches just reinforces the feeling that they’re just filling space in between.
Production is another sore spot. I will give credit where credit is due for some highlights —
Rose Quartz Turning to Glass has a particularly nice opening section, which evokes the feeling of an on-stage performance. In other areas, though, Part the Second sounds distant and artificial, with a couple of climaxes smeared by distracting brightness of tone. Many of the instrumental and vocal effects are also put down at jarringly inappropriate times, such as the aforementioned gargling in
Another Excerpt, drawing attention away from the arrangement as a whole.
Ultimately, the problem with Part the Second is that it ends up being nothing more than the sum of its parts, as promising as some of those parts may be. In this context, the album’s title is strangely appropriate — there may exist a masterpiece built with these blocks somewhere, but of it we can only listen to a displaced fragment that can’t stand on its own.