Monday, September 28, 2009

Nautical-Themed Musings

Go to Sea
The Model United Nations

You have to respect a band that has managed to put out three records in three years entirely under their own steam. The Model United Nations have gotten their fair share of favorable notices elsewhere, but it's no accident or vast college radio conspiracy. Go to Sea is a rarity, a full-blown self-released rock LP that sounds like an album with varied songs, different instrumentation, changing moods, and arrangements that don't wear out the treads on the same old grooves.

"Iowa City" is an excellent entry point, typifying singer Warren Mills' tour-diary like geographical lyrics, poignant melodies, and guitars that circle around and enhance the vocals rather than drowning them out. What really sets the Model UN apart is their understanding of song structure. After the main body of "Iowa City," which itself has some well-thought-out soft-to-loud shifts, there's a breakdown with some unusual chord changes and then a coda where the band revs up under Mills' repeated pleas of "Call off your dogs!" Every song doesn't have to break the mold of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge, but the Model UN's ability to sense when it's the right time to try something a little different reflects a busy period of writing songs, perfecting them, and writing more songs still.

"Summer of Wolves," the opener, rocks out in a manner I wish the album returned to more frequently later. There's also a blast of fuzzy keyboard that further highlights their attention to detail and a great hook: "If you get tired of yourself, there's always me." "Knives (Berlin)" adds acoustic guitar to their sound, with Mills' vocals and the solid drumming keeping it recognizably the work of the same band. There's different guitar colors and feels from the bassist and drummer on all the tracks, really.

But you'd have to listen closely to tell. Model UN's songwriting and group performances are very well-developed, but they need to be less fussy. Sure, there's a lot of different types of songs on this record, but all of them except for "Wolves" would fit in just fine with what Death Cab for Cutie has been up to the last few years (including the occasionally dance-aware basslines) and frankly, Death Cab for Cutie are annoying the way they never rock out even though they're completely capable of it. It's wonderful that Model UN's guitar players have gone past the point where they want to just chug rhythm chords all the time. But simple rocking out is another tool in the songwriter's palette that they'd do well to rediscover.

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