Web Exclusive! Review of the Day ? Bockman: Chasing Dragons

Chasing Dragons

Co-Opt Records (Co-opt 002)

Grade: ***

Fantasy-metal is not Bockman’s game, though you wouldn’t know it by the Chasing Dragons album title or song names like “Isis” and “Delerium.”

With piano as the main instrument, the cover clueing you on that pertinent bit of information, Bockman resembles a less sardonic ? and, therefore, not nearly as funny ? Ben Folds Five.

But Bockman has other gifts ? namely a dynamic, emotionally practical pop sensibility, combined with prog tendencies and the more commercial, pseudo-arty ambition you usually associate with the British (read, The Fray, Travis, Elbow, Coldplay, etc.).

Because of that, some of Bockman’s debut release has a faceless quality that’s hard to ignore, especially on the “go nowhere and take all day to do it” ’60s folk labor of the title track and the dragging, oxen-pulling ballad “Neighbor.” There are moments on “Neighbor” where you think the repeated piano chordal pounding will change to something more grand and epic, but it never does. The shame of it all is that “Squirrel View,” the track immediately preceding “Neighbor,” has the kind of deceptively simple hooks you can sink your teeth into.

Fat synth and flashing guitars play off background psychedelia in a quirky amalgam that’s reminiscent of XTC’s more accessible material.

Pushing the envelope further are “Cruel Morning Dreams” and “How Rad It Was.” With its complex drumming, kaleidoscopic guitar effects and blossoming electronica, “How Rad It Was” changes the dynamic, rewrites the rules and gives Bockman a chance to stretch out and hitchhike on whatever acid-laced journey the Flaming Lips have yet to map out for themselves.

In fact, given that its the 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper this summer, there’s a real playful experimentalism to “Cruel Morning Dreams” that dresses Beatles’ pop symphonies in modern indie-pop stylings ? twinkling chimes, synthesizer squelches, lush strings, dancing guitar. And while the slow climb of “Calm,” cheesy guitar solo and all, may not be the most imaginative arrangement in rock history, but it does have an understated grandeur that makes you not want to give up on it for reasons that would otherwise have you ending this association with Bockman.

Though not everything is pieced together seamlessly, Bockman does strive to be more than a pretty pop face or an emotional crutch for stunted adolescents. And most of the time, as with the sophisticated pop constructions of “Live It Out” and the driving rock and melodic earnestness of “Delerium,” Bockman proves that there’s more going on with this Missouri quartet than a wish that you would carry its emotional baggage, ala Coldplay.

If Bockman is, indeed, Chasing Dragons, at least it’s not wasting its time daydreaming all day long. They could, after all, be attacking windmills like a crazy person.

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