Admittedly, the cowbell on “Temporary Famine Ship” was enough to make me want to chuck Free Gold!, Houston-based art rockers Indian Jewelry’s latest full-length: after all, to do so would allow it to live as 5:30 minutes of clanging, cowbell-tinged transcendence rather than 50 minutes of typical, indie hit-or-miss. My fears weren’t totally unfounded, but in all fairness “Swans” and “Temporary Famine Ship” set the bar pretty goddamn high: The former is fuzzy, ear-splitting crescendo rock at its best; the latter one of the most bizarrely danceable tracks of the year.
As the early-album tip-of-the-hat to Christopher Walken suggests, Indian Jewelry manages to inject some much-needed whimsy into a genre overloaded with existential gravitas. Fuck Buttons might paint sonic Monet Water Lillies, but IJ thrashes through a veritable bricolage of tenuously assembled noise: Their website lists about 20 band members and occasional collaborators, and on the album itself, guitar licks that owe a thing or two to John Cale compete with droning synth lines and vocals that sound like they were recorded in somebody’s basement. It’s a brilliantly scatterbrained group effort, featuring at least one baroque pop show-stopper (“Everything”) and one half-competent David Byrne impersonation (“Hello Africa.”) And speaking of vocals, Erika Thrasher sounds like a bitchier Belinda Butcher–a fact that almost rescues plodding or overproduced songs like “Overdrive” and makes “Swans” one of the top ass-kickers of the year.
But the album frequently drifts into mediocrity, and overlong or disorganized tracks like “Seasonal Economy” (which has the bad luck of coming after the “Swans”-“Famine Ship” combo) highlight the shortcomings of their decidedly exuberant approach to a typically staid sub-genre. But while Free Gold! drops off considerably after highlights like “Swans,” “Temporary Famine Ship” and “Everyday,” its other 35 minutes are at least interesting, and, for the most part, resist the monotonous self-indulgence that dooms so many well-meaning musical experimentalists.
Great as is high points are, Free Gold! has no glittering nuggets of perfection waiting for newgaze aficionados, and definitively nothing as sonically overwhelming as A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s majestic “5:15 Train.” But while “5:15 Train” is the kind of one-stop mindfuck that begs to be drunkenly fallen asleep to, there’s plenty on Free Gold! to get the drinking started. And as uneven as their album may be, Indian Jewelry deserves plenty of credit for making serious music that doesn’t take itself too seriously.