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Wednesday, 05 July 2006 00:00

Big sounds in this intelligent, intentionally bumpy ride

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By Chris Cooper

A rather popular band was recently branded with the criticism of being “a small band trying to sound big.” It’s an interesting idea, because in a different context (and in regards to a different band), it could easily be taken as praise.

I say this because Tastes Change immediately reminded me of this comment, but in a positive sense. The Honored Guests don’t make it obvious that they’re “trying,” so much as naturally able, to make a sound that’s bigger than their current status might imply. The fact that the album was recorded, mixed and mastered by the band in their home studio is pretty impressive as well.

I’ll have to admit to some initial apprehension, though. Perusing the performance credits, I couldn’t help but notice that three of the four band members are credited with keys and “glock,” as in glockenspiel. This could be cause for a little anxiety, because really: just how much keyboard and glock can three guys possibly shove into a “rock” album before it becomes a watery, tinkly mess?

Unfounded concerns, thankfully. Witness the minimal but effective washes of synth in the pre-chorus of “Baby, We’re So Lost,” and the hint of glockenspiel in the bridge. While present in the mix, they’re not calling undue attention to themselves, and bring fullness to the tune without coming across as cloying.

Used incorrectly, these elements can lend an uncomfortably slick feel to the proceedings. But The Honored Guests maintain some of that gritty “indie” credibility via healthy doses of reverb, sharp but not “big” guitar tones and an occasionally overbearing love of outright noise, as on the “screeching space crickets” segue between “Summer Snow” and “Sharpened Tooth.”

“Sharpened Tooth” seems an effective example of where these guys’ heads are at, musically. Vocalist Russell Baggett manages a unique combination of disconnection and emotion here, where you know he means what he’s saying, but is a little tired of talking about it. I don’t want to use Coldplay’s Chris Martin as a reference, but it’s a hard temptation to fight. Baggett doesn’t feel compelled to break into falsetto any time he wants to make a point (like you-know-who), so that’s a plus. The band has a penchant for rolling 6/8 grooves, as on the melancholic wit and humor “Overcast” and “If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now,” the latter of which is one of the only tunes that’s hurt a little by a slightly seasick synthesizer patch. But the redemption is that gorgeous, anthemic chorus.

So here we have another talented band sprung from the fertile Chapel Hill music scene, borrowing freely from both sides of the Atlantic for inspiration, and savvy to the truth that doing things independently is just about the only way nowadays to do exactly what you want. In mixing finely honed pop smarts with fearless sonic experimentation, The Honored Guests have turned out an intelligent, intentionally bumpy ride on Tastes Change. It may take a few spins to catch all the good stuff hiding in the corners, but it’s well worth the effort. With a huge, cross-country summer tour currently in the works, it should be pretty easy to catch these guys somewhere close by, and seeing them pull these tunes off live should easily outweigh the admission price. 3.5 stars, overall.

Standout tracks: “Overcast” “Baby, We’re So Lost” “Grown Up Clothes” and “Pray For You”

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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