Someone Else's Deja Vu

Author: Bob Marshall
08/15/2008 | | | Album Review
Try to remember back about five years ago when Omaha, NE was recognized as a major city in the music world. At the forefront of local label Saddle Creek Records sat indie rock's next big talents: Bright Eyes, The Faint, and Cursive. These bands not only spawned legions of impostors hanging onto their collective snowballing fame, but they also created pseudo-genres unto themselves — Bright Eyes with spaz-folk emo, Cursive with cello-driven punk, and The Faint with "danse" or whatever the cool Midwestern kids called it.

These days, Saddle Creek and Omaha lay in ruins. Conor Oberst recently decided to forgo the "Bright Eyes" moniker and re-introduce himself by name on Merge Records. Then The Faint figured they'd have better luck self-producing their albums, and their newest release has gone by relatively unnoticed. Oh, and Cursive doesn't have a cello player anymore. So where did Omaha's prodigal second wave go? In singer/songwriter Joe Knapp's case, right back to where he started from.

After gaining a small amount of fame through 2000's Oh, Holy Fools split EP with Bright Eyes, his band Son, Ambulance has strayed far from their folk-punk roots in recent years. In 2004, they released arguably the most underrated album of the year, Key. Knapp was joined by a full band, and he pounded away his angst on ivory to make one of the most impassioned and tongue-in-cheek prog-rock records of the past 20 years. Songs like "Paper Snowflakes" and "Sex in C minor" captured Knapp's paranoia and lyrical dexterity, and the moment I heard it, I couldn't stop listening. Simultaneously beautiful and unnerving, Key was a great accomplishment, and for four years I waited to see what Knapp and Co. would release next.

Imagine my disappointment with "A Girl in New York City," perhaps the most unnecessary samba track I've ever heard; the opener of Someone Else's Déjà Vu, it sounds like a Starbucks coffee if someone threw it all over your face during a sunny morning commute. Not only is it freakishly annoying, but I just don't understand why it's here. The next song, "Legend of Lizeth," begins a seven-song skid into sickeningly happy-sounding pop-balladry. It's obvious halfway through that Knapp has completely ditched all but one member of his band — percussionist Jeffrey Koster — because the musical arrangements of Déjà Vu are so lacking and simplistic that it's altogether boring.

The album is apparently divided into four parts: "A View from Minstrel Town" (tracks 1-3), "About the Public Square" (tracks 4-7), "To a Deserted Town" (9-11), and "Farewell Pulse" (12-13). The sad thing is, none of this album is readily engaging until part three, where Knapp's songwriting depth is finally revealed. Knapp can croon with the best of them, and on "The Renegade," the album's pace picks up. It's then I feel as though I understand Knapp's vision for the entirety of Déjà Vu: it's a tribute to Simon and Garfunkel and all the 'pretty' pop Knapp undoubtedly grew up on. Since making such a drastic, dark change on Key, Son, Ambulance wanted to make happy folk songs again. The only problem is that they took it too far. They didn't progress or take chances in general — but from the perspective of their previous work, they feel they did.

I listened to this CD quite a bit, and it took some work for it to grow on me. I'll admit that it finally did, but I'd say Knapp and Koster's experiment was more failure than success. There are still some great songs on the end of this album; I just don't think I want to listen to them anymore. I guess I liked Joe Knapp bitter more than I did blissful.

1. A Girl in New York City 2. Legend of Lizeth 3. Quand Tu Marches Seul 4. Wild Roses 5. Horizons 6. Yesterday Morning 7. Constellations 8. and 9. Juliet's Son 10. The Renegade 11. Awakening 12. Someone Else's Déjà Vu 13. Requiem for a Planet
Someone Else's Deja Vu

Someone Else's Deja Vu

LP / CD / MP3