Styrofoam: A Thousand Words

  • Format: album
Rating: 7.0 out of 10

A Thousand Words album cover

It seems that lately there's an awful lot of singer/songwriter/producers who're finally getting out of their bedrooms and into the real world.  By this I mean that they've actually recruited other musicians and started gigging as a band.  But is this a good thing?  Back-in-the-day, They Might Be Giants lost a great many of their most devoted fans when they changed from being an arty two-piece that used tape loops and quirky gimmicks to being a five-piece band.  The music itself didn't suffer (it arguably became better), but they certainly lost some of their cool.

But what about acts that can't realistically recreate the sound of their records on stage? Bon Iver (aka Justin Vernon) made what is in my opinion the best album of 2008 (so far) all on his lonesome, and has been touring pretty much solidly since its release accompanied by a full band.  They've been recreating the songs off the record pretty faithfully, but as was to be expected some of the sheen and atmosphere of the record has been lost.

This transfer of songs from record to stage often brings a complete change of sound.  The addition of extra musicians - and the human interaction that comes with them - can warp a song so that it becomes utterly unrecognisable, and in some cases changes the feel of the entire project.  This metamorphosis can be an exciting thing to witness as a fan.  Much in the same way that I enjoy a good cover-version (or "reimagining" if you're Tim Burton) hearing a familiar song in an unfamiliar way can be a thrilling experience.

But what if you're not familiar with the material?

Styrofoam live1I saw Styrofoam back in July when they were supporting Death Cab for Cutie at the Brixton Academy.  I really enjoyed their performance, and thought they made a pretty good trio (guitar/vox, piano/synth/BVs, and drums, all accompanied by laptop-based programing).  The sound was sharp, entertaining and well rounded, but more importantly, it was _cool _(albeit in a trashy, europop way...).  Being the good music consumer I am, I demonstrated my approval by purchasing an album and an E.P.

Imagine my surprise when I listened to the record and discovered that Arne Van Petegem - whom I had taken to be the band's frontman - was in fact the only official member, and that the band was actually a Play Radio Play style solo project!  I was shocked, appalled, and disgusted, and promptly shoved the CDs into my collection to gather dust.

Don't get me wrong; I quite like Play Radio Play, and loved the Postal Service record (alas, it's not one that stands up to repeat listening, but is quite nice every once in a while).  So why did I scorn Styrofoam so? I guess it was because the CD wasn't what I was expecting, and my disgust was purely reactionary.

I'm pleased to report that the wonders of "shuffle" have proved me wrong.  I've "rediscovered" A Thousand Words, and it's actually pretty super.  So I guess the lesson here is...  well, sod any lesson or allegorical point; just take every record as you find it.

Styrofoam - [Bright Red Helmet]( Bright Red Helmet.mp3)

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