Reviewed by Bert Gangl
Attention by Philmont
"...it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate soundtrack for cruising a long stretch of highway with the top down... [but] although Taube and his cohorts are undeniably proficient at what they do, a good portion of it has already been done many times before."
After no less than three EPs – two indie projects followed by 2008's Oh, Snap on the Forefront label – the men of Philmont have, at long last, hunkered down and put out their freshman full-length outing. Much like they did on the shorter efforts, the members of the Charlotte-based foursome come out of the starting chute at near full speed. "Hello, Jack" broadcasts the group's intentions to rock their listeners like the proverbial hurricane, thanks to its expeditious tempo and emo-meets-punk/pop aesthetic. Leaning a bit more to the latter side of that equation, front man Scott Taube turns in his best punk sneer on the likewise stimulating (and interestingly-titled), follow-on cut, "To Say They Hit It Off Would Be an Understatement." For the better part of the remainder of the album, tracks like "The Difference," "Setting Off" and "Back Down" find the Philmont collective sticking to the same basic template laid out by the first two songs.
Wordwise, the group relies heavily on both story telling and metaphor, with varying degrees of success. “Photosynthetic” makes innovative use of photography-related language (Choose your subject/ Fill the frame/ Leave the crime scene/ Just as quietly as you came) to make the case for the deity of Christ. The disjointed, stream-of-consciousness language in “Hello, Jack,” on the other hand, renders the underlying meaning of its account of an airplane’s emergency landing on a snow-covered mountain exceedingly hard to suss out. Even less encouragingly, the band’s forays away from the narrative lyrical style are met with uniformly less impressive results – as the cliché-filled “Another Name” (All you ever needed/ Is waiting here with me) and “I Can’t Stand to Fall” (Tear down these walls / I can't make them fall) amply prove. In their defense, though, when the Philmont lads truly hit their stride, as they do on the far cleverer and more eloquent “My Hippocratic Oath” (See what hides inside/ I cut you open/ There's nothing left to do/ But close your eyes as I'm putting you under), the results are truly magnificent.
Ironically enough, for all of the band's bracing punk-inclined sensibility, the most memorable portions on the new record come when they tap the brakes and slow things down a bit. "I Can't Stand to Fall" injects the band's typically rousing rhythms with welcome doses of slow, ethereal pop – a time-tested formula parlayed to perfection on now-familiar tracks like Relient K's "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been." Elsewhere, the Philmont collective truly comes into their own on the stirring, acoustically-driven ballad, "Letter to the Editor" – a piece which stands out as a marvelously distinctive dot amidst a sea of chugging guitars and breakneck rhythms. Most impressive of all, however, are the folk-influenced portions of "Another Name," which infuse the sublime tune with an understated beauty that renders it, far and away, the most moving, and unique, entry on the Attention release.
To the band's credit, most of the songs on their latest project would probably fare decently on the CHR or Christian rock charts. Taken as a whole, though, the new album begins to exhibit a wearisome sameness that, save for the abovementioned exceptions, makes it seem far less than the sum of its parts. None of this is to intimate that the foursome’s latest effort is anything less than exhilarating – indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate soundtrack for cruising a long stretch of highway with the top down, lifting one’s spirits after a nasty breakup, or turning in a record-breaking time in one’s next 5K. But, while it may be fine for members of the abovementioned categories, or for those not particularly finicky about their emo or punk music, the purists in the crowd will be quick to realize that, although Taube and his cohorts are undeniably proficient at what they do, a good portion of it has already been done many times before.
Bert Gangl was formally introduced to the wonderful world of Christian music by his baby brother as the two were winding their way through Western Tennessee in the family automobile. Ever intent on proving that not all Christian artists were knock-offs of their mainstream counterparts, the younger Gangl duly inserted his newly-purchased copy of White Heart's Freedom into the waiting car tape player and the rest, as they say, is history. In the twenty years that have transpired since that time, Bert has amassed a sizeable CCM album collection of his own and has gone on to write reviews for a range of music-related sites including ChristRock , The Phantom Tollbooth, inReview and The All-Music Guide. He currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife and daughter.