James the Viking attacks

by Beacon Staff • February 2, 2006

The band's fanbase grew out of fliers and hearsay on the UMass-Boston campus, when the group played as Undertow for its first years of existence.,James the Viking has been playing for almost a decade, and the band's latest release proves it has not yet hit its peak.

The band's fanbase grew out of fliers and hearsay on the UMass-Boston campus, when the group played as Undertow for its first years of existence. In its current incarnation, James the Viking has been making the Boston bar rounds for three years.

Easier is the band's first record, and a telling encapsulation of these years, especially of the band's influences-for better and worse.

The music is listenable, as it seems to follow a tract or template that was set long ago. Two clear influences are The Pretenders and The Pixies-both very solid bands, but a far cry from where pop/rock is now.

The band itself sounds ready to play for the studio walls.

This polarizes the lead singer, Colleen Rusconi, forcing her to follow the band's example with her own instrument. She comes close, but in the end, her voice just rambles in a high octave, searching for the direction the band is leading her in.

She does not put herself on the line enough. Her voice wavers from track to track between a kind of "last call," 2 a.m. wail and an unsure quiver.

There is talent there, however, and a little more confidence and direction will bring something more solid from the whole of the band.

The lyrics are also lackluster. There is a kind of running, anti-rhyme, novice-poetics that reveal a clear absence of originality or time.

Take, for example, "Mondlicht:" "Can I tilt the wheel so the hourglass slips slow back allowing just enough to reassess the lapse."

Or the end-of-song coda on the same track: "Days roll fast / Chit-chat about that / Days roll fast, shit / Forgot to feed the cat."

Think the love-child of Billy Corgan and Jewel. Think "emo" neophyte, exploring love through the infected lens of Hot Topic, the Warped Tour, Vans and an unhealthy habit of watching 1980s John Cusack flicks.

And that is the most telling part: the lack of attention in the lyrics shows that the band is really without direction, relying only on influence. The actual playing sounds solid, but also stale, old and aged.

This music was made years ago, and James the Viking seems to be fighting desperately in vain to bring back that early-'80s garage-rock revival. And even then, that genre has already been covered excessively by mid-'90s British garage bands, like The Stone Roses and The Cranberries.

The songs on an individual level carry that template to burden-the best three being the title track, "Why Don't You Leave" and "Dream of a Different You"-and all sound like they were ripped directly from The Pixies' album Surfer Rosa.

The worst are "My Decision" and "Mondlicht" ("Moonlight" in German), which border between unlistenable and the filler tracks of a "rockumentary" in the vein of This is Spinal Tap.

The rest are decent, Pretenders-type songs that are never too hard on the ear or the brain. The band breaks no ground, however, instead just digging in a dead genre. They sound okay, just not that good to deserve fandom ... yet.

The music breaks for a GarageBand "Wall of Sound," and it's just good enough to warrant a first album, but if it does not find real focus for something fresh, the band might end up spiraling in the Boston bar circuit for several years to come.

Vocalist Rusconi might be able to wail, and if so, she should show it off, not hide.

For an album that sounds halfway between the "Pete and Pete" theme and Surfer Rosa, the instrumentalists are undoubtedly talented, but their cohesiveness arises from the simplicity and, basically, familiarity with the material.