Animals & People is the third LP from Lowell, Massachusetts’ Idle Pilot, a post-punk trio launched by ugly urban aggression and, literally, a bent toward storytelling (on Bandcamp they bill this new project as an “album masquerading as a short story”). No doubt, this fixation on narrative prevails over the first song on their first album, as well: the intriguingly titled “Closet for Derek” seems already so subsumed in intense human perspective as to be the work of an older band, not one just now bashing out their debut.
This, then, hits on primarily what is troubling about Animals & People — despite its apparently eccentric premise of being a concept album in the style of Pink Floyd’s Animals, it’s not TOO much of a modification on what’s come before from these guys. Now, as I always try to do, I will temper this statement by reminding the reader that this band is not that famous and so has less of a REASON to change what they’re doing (I myself will walk away from this experience an ardent fan of 2015’s punchy debut Mondegreen). But this is a review of Animals & People and as such, must at least imply that this band has not REALLY stepped outside of its own box too much in the last half-decade. The instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums) remains the same and the singer pounds out pretty much the same types of aggressive, atonal chants very much in the spirit of Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington (the fellow East Coast-bound).
I’d told the band that they reminded me of Sebadoh (think the crazy Eric Gaffney arrangements and the crests of obtrusive guitar feedback, in particular), whereas the two most important influences at work are easily death metal and At the Drive-in. By volume standards, it’s not particularly loud or particularly soft given all of this, but, while seeming to have its heart in the right place, it can sometimes come off as awkward. For instance, when you make your first song on an album close to five minutes (this is a gigantic risk especially for a rock trio, mind you), you sort of require yourself to do something really memorable with it. The most memorable, or significant, thing that “Mr. Skinny Bones” does, after sidling in with some moderately believable umbrage, is stop about two-thirds through for a brief noise foray giving way to basically a tamer permutation of the song’s former phase. Similarly, the other four-minute-plus track on Animals & People also engages in a sort of metamorphosis, beginning with the band’s bread and butter ATDI-inspired, groove-based post-punk (compliments on their jamming tightness) before segueing into this riffy brand of sort of ‘90s alt-rock somewhat like Sponge or Cracker. But, if the band here were able to craft something a little more anthemic or melodic, the result would leave more of an impression within such an ebb in volume. Also, and I alluded to this before, but “So-so Sam” could probably scare listeners with its uncanny similarity to the El Paso rockers At the Drive-in.
As it is, as of right now Idle Pilot’s strengths undoubtedly involve grafting down that fast, punky guitar/drum groove (the lyrics on their past albums seem a little more esoteric and therefore compelling) and pelting out some good ol’ vocal yelling which, again, closely approximates Tim Harrington. Alex Miller’s singing to begin the album, while misleading given its larger mass, seemed a bit uncertain and anticlimactic.
At other points, Idle Pilot just don’t seem to really PUSH IT INTO OVERDRIVE when I want them to — “Vinny the Whale” ignites an awesome groove of fast and mean guitar punchiness about three minutes in, but then dissipates back into what they apparently hope is the riffy, melodic “concept of the song.” It’s debatable, in other words, whether such a concept has ever even materialized.
At the Drive-in’s lyrics work because they’re relentlessly scathing and subversive — quintessentially punk, in other words. Part of Idle Pilot’s problem, I believe, along with what I perceive as a general fear of being simple and direct (too many mid-song shifts in mood pervade this album in my opinion), is a sort of schizophrenia of sentiment, like trying to play the antipathetic “punk” card and the warm-hearted lyrical conscience of pop, at the same time. With this being the case, the listener is left often not knowing what to gather from these tunes, other than, of course, some pretty cathartic head-nodding, in its best spots.