The Narrator, on their first full-length album Such Triumph operate in two modes: stripped down and more stripped down. These punk rock peddlers of lo-fi wares ooze a low fidelity sound, one so low that some songs could be mistaken for demos-but that is by design. The style can take its toll; demos can sound great while dirty, gritty and sparse. Or, demos can sound like … demos. The vocals on Such Triumph are inconsistent at best. Without some effect that makes the lead singer Sam Axelrod sound like he is singing though a soup can, it sounds at times like he can’t really sing.
Initially, poor vocal skills and the band’s compulsive obsession with relegating melodies to the background in favor of a near-unhealthy affection for noise, distortion and feedback makes it hard to follow this record to its high points on “Ergot Blues,” “Wait No Actually” and “Wolves in the Walls.” Though the immediate catchiness to Such Triumph is less than obvious, if listeners offer their time and attention, they will be rewarded with a record that has few current substitutes.
Such Triumph sounds shrill in many parts because it is. Shrill is a fine style choice except The Narrator overplays their sound. Transitions are not transitions if music is not playing. Riding the feedback to fill space in the middle of a song, such as in the monotonous “Roughhousing,” is a dramatic device (read: special trick) that should instead be reserved for set-ending encores (i.e. Spoon), transcribing the sound of heroin to guitar and anything Lou Reed touches.
“Ergot Blues,” a highlight of Such Triumph, slowly decays like the fungus that is its namesake into a catchy, ruckus mush. The singing is minimal and it’s more of a British-sounding yell, but it does the trick. “Slow paw is how the story goes: ‘Please let me sink.’ And we’re swallowed by madness …” howls Axelrod. “Ergot Blues” finally does artfully sink under the weight of its own feedback before giving way to “Crapdragon.” As evidenced by the title, it is the worst song on the record.
It’s annoying at first that The Narrator goes to such lengths to add dimension to their songs – dimension that clutters everything up. But in brief moments when most of the bells and whistles are taken away, there isn’t much left but a lot of distortion, which becomes fun by the end of Such Triumph.
That is not to say this album does not have it bad moments. “Pregnant Boys,” “Crapdragon” and “Roughhousing” are all pitfalls.
I wanted to compare The Narrator to Q & Not U circa No Kill No Beep Beep, but after giving parts of NKNBB another listen, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I thought other parts of Such Triumph sounded like Cursive on Domestica or, in a twisted way, Hot Hot Heat’s Make Up the Breakdown. You might have the temptation to listen for a tinge of the Pixies in the Narrator, but resist that urge-Such Triumph never gets that far. It’s a good thing that The Narrator is hard to peg; we need more bands like that today. It also makes the band less accessible on the first listen, but the more spins it’s given, the better it gets.