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Halfway Down the Sky

By Daniel J. Katz

Staff writer

From its genesis, the focus of most alternative music has been standard guitar rock taken in new and interesting directions. At its best, Splender’s debut, Halfway Down the Sky, fills this niche. At its worst, it becomes plodding and derivative or wandering and futile. The positives outweigh the negatives, however, making for an enjoyable album.

The kick-off track is a standard, well-paced piece of rock music called “I Don’t Understand,” with the requisite catchy chorus and moment in which everything becomes quiet only to surge again in volume suddenly. While well-displayed in the first song, these traits are much more inherent in the second song and current single, “Yeah, Whatever,” which is not the valley girl anthem it sounds like; on the contrary, the infectious music is enhanced by vocals about trying to keep up with everything your girlfriend wants in a relationship, then finally giving up in frustration. While many alternative bands play empty songs about rejection and depression, Splender’s bitterness appears more sincere than most, perhaps due to a focus on regret and nostalgia rather than revenge and self-loathing.

That bitterness is also inherent in songs like “I Apologize,” in which the lead singer grows tired of hearing that everything is his fault and sarcastically apologizes for the sunlight and rain, and “Spin,” which accelerates from a laid-back guitar figure to an anguished cry of “So long, sorry ... You’re not here and I don’t want you back.” Other highlights include “Wallflower,” with heavy guitar delay effects that sound a bit like Rage Against the Machine would if they went pop, and “Monotone,” which, once again, satisfies the same hit song requirements as the first two.

Unfortunately, while there are some great tracks near the beginning and end of Halfway, it falls totally flat somewhere around the middle. The overly peppy Matchbox 20-esque “Special,” leads into the overly dramatic ballad, “I Think God Will Explain,” both of which capture a lot of mood without a lot of creativity or emotion. “Responsible” sounds exactly like a song I know I’ve heard somewhere, and “Supernatural” definitely doesn’t, because it has no real aim or appeal whatsoever.

As a whole, the project would probably be a little more appealing if the good and bad tracks were interspersed; in their current order the quality of the album surges downhill around the middle. The current single, which is pulling off quite a bit of airplay, is a good indication of whether you’ll be into this band. If you hear “Yeah, Whatever” and rejoice at a wonderful piece of modern rock, Splender’s for you. If you find yourself repeating the name of the song in indifference, look elsewhere for your musical fix.