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Friday, May 05, 2006

How We Operate

Gomez has been on my mind recently. After hearing a few MP3s from their new record, How We Operate (hat tip to Jesse and Jeff for posting them on their respective blogs), I decided to pick the record up. Yup, you heard correctly: I bought the damn thing without hearing it the whole way through. What do I think after paying $14.08 for it? Very satisfied.

Gomez is a band that Matt introduced me to. Making a mix CD with tracks from their first two albums (Bring It On and Liquid Skin) and their odds-and-sods collection (Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline), I was really impressed with these guys. To call them a jam band would be incredibly unfair and short-sighted, but the band has a number of songs that have that kind of feel-good grove that's in a number of jam bands. Luckily, at least on their first two albums, Gomez was all about the song while also experimenting with weird sounds. From computer hums to banjos to old beaten-up keyboards, the band was a little too weird for mainstream tastes and a little too poppy for indie audiences.

The band received nice press on both sides of the pond with their first few releases, but by their third proper album, In Our Gun, fans and critics were slowly disappearing from their radar. The album is not a horrible album, but I found it very meandering. The experimentation side of the band seemed at the forefront and I just couldn't get into it. By the time they had released their follow-up, Split the Difference, and their double-live album, Out West, I didn't even bother to check them out.

Now on ATO Records (the imprint owned by Dave Matthews under RCA Records with My Morning Jacket, Ben Kweller and David Gray on its roster), Gomez has a new album that is really worth hearing. However, some die-hard fans of their early material might think the band has cashed in their chips for a chance at mainstream attention.

On How We Operate, there is no noodling, jamming or wigging out. Also gone are the weird sounding keyboards, spare percussion and random noises. What's left is the song performed by three guitarist/vocalists, the bassist and drummer with their trademark acoustic guitars, slide guitar lines, some piano/keyboards, some banjos and some whammy pedal action. While that might be too much of an undressing, this is a really fine album without all the bloops and bleeps. The band has always had great songs that show a powerful sense of warmth (like "Tijuana Lady," "Bring It On," and "Rhythm and Blues Alibi"), so to have an album that is filled with this style, I give the record high marks.

There are a number of possible hit singles here. My ears might be totally off here, but I think I could hear "See the World" in a travel commercial, on adult contemporary radio or maybe even on Radio Disney. A bright little song with a happy chorus, this is classic Gomez only a little more polished this time out. The whole album is pretty awesome, but at what cost did this strip and polish job do for Gomez?

Well, in a day where a number of acts burn out their creative firewood with maybe one or two albums, the emphasis should be on the song, not sticking out in a crowd. Gomez has made something really good here and at a perfect time. People who had lost touch with the band can be reintroduced and a new audience may also pick up on what they're doing. Pundits could claim this is a major sellout or an attempt to kiss the ass of the lowest common denominator, but this doesn't sound like mushy slop that's polished to a shine.

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