54 Seconds’ ‘Postcards from California’

courtesy 54 Seconds 54 Seconds 

That Other Paper’s Nicole Haddad and Adam Avramescu decided to listen to 54 Seconds’ LP Postcards from California and record their thoughts in dialogue form.

What we know: According to their press kit, 54 Seconds’ lead singer Spencer Gibb is the son of the Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb. We have so many questions now! Unlike his father, Spencer has been stayin’ alive in Austin, and with this new album, he’s just gotta get a message to you. There’re cute little Polaroids all over the album art, and the cover appears to be our formerly standing Intel shell, which just screams Austin.

Track One: “Blocking the Sun”

Adam Well, this is what a postcard from California might sound like if committed to tape.

Nicole How do you think a postcard from California would sound? Distorted?

Adam Apparently. Sun-drenched guitars. Oh, what are you eating? That looks good. Is it good?

Nicole Not really. It’s a meal-replacement bar. Chocolate-coconut. Very coconutty. I’ve never tried it before.

Adam I like the little synth-y riff they’ve got running over the intro. And I like the key change for the chorus, though I’m not so sure I like the synth farts running through the whole thing. I think it takes a strong band to realize that synthesizers aren’t that interesting on their own.

Nicole They really aren’t. Everybody’s using them now, though.

Adam You can thank The Rentals for that.

Nicole I’d much rather listen to music that sounds like real instruments are playing.

Adam Well, it’s not even that for me. It’s just needless extra noise. But aside from that, I think I like the sound of this.

Nicole For me, a lot of my musical tastes are formed around the vocal quality. I don’t really like the sound of his voice.

Adam I don’t really listen to vocals, but I think this guy is okay. Here’s that riff again, on guitar. It’s a good riff – they’re overusing it, but it’s good. You look deep in thought.

Nicole I’m trying to decide if this is good or not.

Adam The song?

Nicole No, my meal replacement bar. It’s a bit chalky. Too much coconut, not enough chocolate.

Track Two: “Ben’s Letter”

Adam This track is called “Ben’s Letter.”

Nicole What, Ben? Like Ben from Lost? I love Lost.

Adam I was thinking more of one of the BensFolds, Lee, or Kweller.

Nicole All the best people are named Ben; have you noticed?

Adam I don’t agree with that – hey! This is a Radiohead song. This is “Bulletproof.” Same instrumentation, same progression, same melody. I’m gonna try to listen to this and enjoy this despite the fact that it’s a Radiohead song. Because that wasn’t a great Radiohead song anyway.

Nicole I don’t think I’ve heard it.

Adam It’s pretty cool that they decided to put in a brass section here. I also like the piano voicings.

Nicole This is a really nice, mellow song.

Adam Yeah, I can actually get into this.

Nicole This is on the verge of being a CD that I would sit next to my CD player and memorize.

Adam It’s not there for me, but I think it’s well above background music. It’s holding my attention. And I think it’s because this band has a fairly good grasp of its instrumentation. I think the synth in the last song was a misfire and I think the synth pad here is a bit much, but overall–

Nicole It sounds like a Coldplay song.

Adam It’s not big enough to be a Coldplay song.

Nicole You mean not overproduced enough?

Adam Coldplay sounds like they’re in a stadium, even on CD. Maybe if there was tons more reverb and everything was compressed to high hell, this would be a Coldplay song. But everything’s a bit looser here. More of a lounge feel. The production is just a little smarter. I just wish they had left out the synth pad.

Nicole I like this song.

Adam Me too. This is gonna be somebody’s prom song.

Nicole Some day.

Adam Somebody will lose their virginity to this song.

Nicole Some day.

Adam Congratulations, 54 Seconds. You’re popping some cherries.

Nicole Like this is the song they’d play in a movie for the cherry-popping scene.

Adam You know, maybe, but I feel like the horns make this song smarter than that. You wouldn’t think to put them in a song like this ordinarily. It feels more genuine than a movie soundtrack.

Track Three: “Dirty Little Secret”

Adam And here’s the single.

Nicole I really don’t want to eat any more of this. It’s disgusting. It took me five-sixths of the bar to make me realize I couldn’t eat any more.

Adam Okay, let me try it.

Nicole You’re gonna be so freaked out that I ate that much of it.

Adam It is a little chalky, you’re right. You’d be surprised at what I’ll eat, though.

Adam It’s called “Atkins Advantage.”

Adam All right, this song isn’t doing anything for me. I would’ve preferred the last two for a single. You know what it is? This band needs to let its synth player go.

Nicole Let’s see who the synth player is. Stewart Cochran.

Adam Oh, usually the girl plays keyboards.

Nicole She actually plays bass and guitar. Girls who play bass are kinda hot. I always wanted to play drums, but I had to play flute. I dated a guy in middle school who played the flute.

Adam Did you turn him gay?

Nicole No, he was already gay – he played the flute.

Adam You were just his beard.

Nicole No, I’m kidding. He was straight. And he broke up with me in my yearbook.

Adam He broke up with you in your yearbook? Like, “Let’s see other people, HAGS”?

Nicole No, “Hey, I think we should take a break for the summer.”

Adam “HAGS.”

Nicole That’s what this song reminds me of – when my eighth grade boyfriend broke up with me in my yearbook. It’s the melancholy, lilting tones of the mandolin. Reminds me of my ex-boyfriend.

Adam Reminds me of Corelli. And how Nicolas Cage needs a better agent.

Nicole Yeah, I mean, Ghost Rider? Have you noticed how every time you go to the movie, that preview is playing? Whether it’s the preview for the movie or the DVD, it’s always Ghost Rider.

Track Four: “I Wish I Was a Girl”

Adam Hey, listen to that! This is really good. There was just a break for silence.

Nicole There was a break!

Adam There was no guitar for several seconds, just bass and drums. This is good. This band knows how to arrange a song. It’s ballsy.

Nicole This song is called “I Wish I Was a Girl.”

Adam That’s also ballsy.

Nicole I wish I was a girl.

Adam I wish you were a girl, too, Nicole.

Nicole After all I talked about how music is bought and sold with me in terms of the vocal quality, I very rarely like female singers. I’m really picky. But this girl [Rachel Loy] singing back-up is good.

Adam I like Spencer’s voice, too.

Nicole It’s growing on me.

Adam I like how it sounds raspy and drug-addled.

Nicole Like Ryan Adams.

Adam He sounds like he should be singing in a grunge band, but he just showed up 15 years too late. Pop is the new grunge, anyway.

Nicole Alt-pop-rock is the new grunge.

Adam You mean alt-pop-rock-indie-alt-pop-alt-alt.

Nicole Prock-ternative. Emo-core-ternative. This is good – except for that fake ending.

Adam That was not a fake ending. Although some bands do just end their songs abruptly like that when you think they’re going to continue. But I don’t think it’s a fake ending if you think they’re going to continue and then they do.

Nicole I didn’t think they were going to. It’s a fake ending.

Adam You know, I like the synths in this song. I’m reconsidering Stewart.

Nicole I like everything about this song, except the fake ending.

Adam There was no fake ending. I’m gonna go ahead and disagree with you and say that the fake ending worked.

courtesy 54 Seconds 54 Seconds 

Track Five: “California”

Nicole Oh, this is “California.”

Adam This is another Grey’s Anatomy track. I guess I’m okay with this, though.

Nicole I hate Grey’s Anatomy.

Adam Me too.

Nicole It’s such a rip-off.

Adam It’s a rip-off? Do you pay for it?

Nicole No, I mean it rips off every other hospital show.

Adam I think that’s why everyone likes it, though. It’s a teen drama set at a hospital.

Nicole Whatever, it sucks. And that chick – the lispy one – I hate her. I like Katherine Heigl, though.

Adam Katherine Heigl has done some legitimately good work outside of Grey’s Anatomy.

Nicole Like My Father, the Hero.

Adam Like Wish Upon a Star. Or what was that show where she was an alien? Roswell.

Nicole This sounds like James Blunt. Not in a negative way. Just if it was polished up a bit and sung by a British pussy. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean pussy. British – man. Who sometimes sleeps with hot models, apparently.

Adam He sleeps atop a bed of hot models.

Nicole How does that happen?

Adam Ikea. He just has to put them together himself. Yeah, these guys are definitely better when they’re rocking. But I understand that if you’re a band in this position, you absolutely want to have as many Grey’s Anatomy tracks as possible.

Nicole So you can get rich.

Adam And dip into high school kids’ wallets. Disposable income. Westlake kids will buy this CD.

Nicole If I ever made a CD, I would not let them sell it in Westlake.

Adam You’re putting that in the contract? I would sell mine exclusively in Westlake.

Nicole For $30 a CD.

Adam For $30 a song. Each track will be 20 seconds long, and the CD will run an hour. Doing the math?

Nicole I don’t know. I wasn’t a math major!

Adam That’s why you can’t multiply. That’s all they teach you in the math major, really. This track has gotten progressively more interesting. I like this outro. It’s kind of a build.

Nicole What’s it building to?

Adam I dunno, the end. But I like it.

Nicole The entire band is sighing. I kind of nothing that track.

Adam I was okay with the ending.

Nicole I nothing it.

Track Six: “My Crazy Life”

Nicole “Mi Vida Loca.” Ugh, this meal bar.

Adam You wanna review the bar?

Nicole It was bad.

Adam “Adam and Nicole review Nicole’s meal replacement bar.” All right, what do you think of this track?

Nicole He especially sounds like Ryan Adams now. I like the drums a lot.

Adam Oh, there’s the kick-in.

Nicole I like really cliched drum structures. I like other kinds of drums, too, but I like when drums sound familiar.

Adam I think a really good band can rise and fall on their drumming.

Nicole So how do you feel about the drums on this track?

Adam Not doing anything for me. Like, a good drummer can take really cliched structures and own them. Think of Jim Eno. He just owns it. Oh, there’s that stupid synth again. Stewart…

Nicole I don’t understand why everyone now thinks their songs have to sound like a video game or a cell phone ringtone.

Adam It’s not even that. It’s the ’70s and ’80s nostalgia kick. Because back then, people were using these sounds sincerely, just because they could. Because they existed. So now it’s cool to have synths even if you’re not using them for anything.

Nicole So it’s like wearing leg warmers or a side-pony.

Adam Here’s the sighs again.

Nicole What’s that sound, a mouse?

Adam Most likely.

Nicole There’s something squeaky. Is it a synth? I mean – synths – haven’t you ever just been driving and you hear something in a song and you think, Is that my ringtone?

Adam That has never happened to me.

Nicole Not even once?

Adam I know what my ringtone sounds like. Sometimes I’ll be hearing a song and think I hear police sirens. You know, I only think it’s my cell phone when the song that is my ringtone plays.

Track Seven: “How I Roll (Summer Version)”

Adam I wonder if this song is a reference to Pavement. Okay, this is good, and I’m glad they picked up the pace.

Nicole The last two were starting to drag.

Adam Right, exactly. I think that they could have done without the last song.

Nicole I just feel like when you put two slow songs in a row like that, especially if they’re kind of dirgeful, it really slows the album down.

Adam Yeah, it destroys the pace. But I think a lot of bands just succumb to the temptation to put all the slow songs in the middle, so they can bring it back up later.

Nicole Like Jimmy Eat World. Jimmy Eat World–

Adam Sucks.

Nicole Fuck you. Jimmy Eat World has some rockin’ songs, but on all their recent CDs, they have one slow song just smack-dab in the middle. And it totally detracts from the rest of the album.

Adam It can be pulled off, but it’s a cliche. And I think that this song is far more interesting than what came before it. Ooh, listen to these horns! This is really good. I think if you’re in a band, you should be forced to sign a contract that you can’t do a slow song unless it’s interesting.

Nicole But who decides what’s interesting? Is there an Interesting Committee?

Adam Well, that’s the thing. It’s more of a Ministry, actually. It comes back to the idea that those slow songs that we just slept through will be some high schooler’s favorite song.

Nicole True. It’s all a matter of perspective. I love how he’s saying “how I roll.” I wish I had written this song.

Adam So then you could’ve left out the lyrics that are going to date this song so badly?

Nicole No, so I could just say “that’s how I roll” over and over. That’s how I roll. Hey, that was a great sudden ending.

Adam Not a fake ending, either. Two horn shrieks.

Nicole Yeah, it’s good. Like you said.

Adam Well I like it better when it’s like Wire. And the song just ends 30 seconds in, and you’re like, “What the hell? Okay.”

Track Eight: “Breathing”

Adam See, here’s another slow one. I think maybe they just had a million slow ones and not enough fast ones, and they were just thinking, We have to get this up to 45 minutes, so they decided to pad the album.

Nicole I’m gonna have nightmares about this meal-replacement bar. It must be because there’s no sugar.

Adam It says “New and Improved.”

Nicole I’ll believe the “New.”

Adam Well, originally it was just a bar of dog shit, so they improved it from there.

Nicole Gross. I think that would have been preferable. That’s how disgusting the bar was.

Adam So I think it’s saying something that we’ve been talking about your meal-replacement bar through this whole song.

Nicole Background music. This song is really sweeping. It sounds like a Mariah Carey ballad, but re-interpreted by an alt-pop-rock band.

Adam So, Grey’s Anatomy.

Nicole Basically.

Adam This is just uninspired. Oh, wait, listen to this. It’s like the breakdown. Just bass and drums. This is good. You know, I really believe that this band makes excellent use of space – when they’re doing it. But the problem is they’re not always doing it. Like, listen, this is a great build. And I understand it could be meant as contrastive, but I think it’s more like they just give in too often to having everyone play.

Nicole This build, this riff – it’s too good for the rest of the song.

Adam Listen to these power solos!

Nicole It’s like in Forrest Gump when Robin Wright Penn is standing on the ledge, and “Freebird” just starts wailing.

Adam Good outro, good outro! Way to save a crappy song.

Track Nine: “Pocket Full of Numbers”

Nicole Funky bass.

Adam This is the token funk genre track.

Nicole The Timberfake track.

Adam I think we’ve been seeing this as a theme in a lot of the bands we review – the tendency to insert the genre track. And it sounds like Maroon 5 here. I feel like people have been doing this since at least the ’90s, the random funk or groove track. And it’s never very good. Would you like me to make you a mix CD of all the token genre tracks I can find on otherwise good rock albums?

Nicole Yes, and then we can put the playlist up on the site.

Adam And then I could melt it in the microwave and post it on YouTube.

Nicole This sounds like elevator music. Safe, jazzy blues.

Adam If you took out the lyrics, it would sound like hold music.

Nicole The bass line here sounds like “Tempted (by the Fruit of Another).”

Adam I mean, these guys have kind of an ’80s fetish going on.

Nicole That’s really hip right now. Thanks, The Killers. Synth, synth, I’m bored with you.

Adam Stewart, you’re fired.

Track 10: “New World”

Nicole I feel like I’m in a Mario Bros. game.

Adam I like these arpeggiated riffs.

Nicole No. No. There is nothing about this song that I like. It’s just another funky jazz safe white blues song. How long do you think their guitarist’s hair is?

Adam Let’s check their website.

Nicole Hey, these guys are a lot older than I thought they were.

Adam Yeah, they are easily pushing their 70s.

Nicole That’s not what I meant. Screw you. Why do you think they call themselves 54 Seconds? I thought maybe it was an homage to Studio 54, which they probably frequented, because have you seen how old they are?

Track 11: “Still Behind Me”

Nicole We made it through. This song is also taking me back to the eighth grade. Well, a different time in the eighth grade.

Adam Like, 54 seconds later?

Nicole I could picture myself crying alone in my living room to this song.

Adam Eating a tub of rocky road?

Nicole I prefer Ben and Jerry’s Everything but the… ice cream. Or Cherry Garcia. Or they have this one that’s like mint with chocolate in it. I like ice cream!

Adam Hey, Ben and Jerry’s, we’re plugging you. Send us gift certificates care of Adam and Nicole, That Other Paper, P.O. Box 66458. Austin, TX 78766.

Nicole This song makes me want to open my wrists. But in a good way.

Adam And there’s the pull-quote.

Nicole This is the way you end a CD, though. For real. Make them sad.

Adam Or put them to sleep. Do you seriously like this?

Nicole Yeah, I do!

Adam It’s so contrived.

Nicole Whatever, I like contrived things.

Adam For a CD that started out making good use of what it had to offer, I feel like this is a step down.

Nicole I’m gonna have to disagree in that I like depressing songs when they’re done right. Hand me the knife – I’m ready.

Adam I don’t know about this.

Nicole There’s something to be said about CDs that end with a sad song. They make you want to go back and listen to the beginning again. See, I got this CD player for my tenth birthday, and I used to press the repeat button and listen to Jagged Little Pill over and over.

Adam Sad is fine. The only thing that makes me sad here is the fact that the band decided it was a good idea to add yet another soppy ballad. Well, that’s it.

Nicole [pretending to wake up] Oh – what? Where are we?

Adam I thought you liked it.

Nicole I did like it. Now it’s going to play again, because I pressed the repeat button.

Adam Turn it off!

Closing thoughts: This isn’t a bad album by any means, and if you like Grey’s Anatomy, chances are you’ll love everything on here. For us, some of the slow tracks didn’t pass muster until they were almost over. But we agreed that when the band is on its game, the music and production are both excellent and worth repeat listens. You’ll want to come back to the fun ones like “I Wish I was a Girl” and “How I Roll,” or the interesting ones like “Ben’s Letter,” quite a few times. Just watch out for the duds, which are less interesting than Nicole’s meal replacement bar.

Final Rating: Atkins-approved.

Adam and Nicole may have consumed too much chalk, but they’re still looking for more music to review. If you are a band or music promoter, you can send CDs to P.O. Box 66458, Austin, TX 78766 (c/o Adam Avramescu).

More reviews from Adam and Nicole