Lemuria, ‘The Distance Is So Big’ – Album Review
Lemuria have always had musical ambitions beyond the hardcore and punk leanings of many of their Bridge Nine label mates, and on the band’s third album, ‘The Distance Is So Big,’ there's no holding back.
Each track is a perfectly fine-tuned pop song packed with hooks and replete with instrumental breaks, flourishes, clever time signature changes and bittersweet male-female vocals, courtesy of guitarist Sheena Ozzella and drummer Alex Kerns. On past albums Lemuria exhibited the occasional penchant for playing around with song structures and instrumental sections while never losing their sense of pop melody, and here, the band finally strikes the right balance between those sonic meanderings and hummable melodies.
The sound is akin to a punkier Yo La Tengo or a weirder Lemonheads, and yet Lemuria are completely their own band.
Opening track ‘Michael and Stephen Moon,’ a collage of human howls, builds slowly (and eerily) before seguing into ‘Brilliant Dancer,’ one of the album’s standouts. The latter song starts with a laid-back, contemplative guitar riff and some simple piano backing Ozzella’s delicate croon, and it explodes into a massive chorus about 45 seconds in – channeling the quiet-to-loud approach of the Pixies while the band anthemically chants, “This is the last place on Earth/that I thought I would find her.” It’s not enough for Lemuria to leave it there, however; there is a second half to the track that emerges out of a moment of silence, completing an unexpected but effective change in tempo with a moodier vocal hook, added guitar crunch and more emphasis on the piano.
Other surprises pop up frequently throughout ‘The Distance Is So Big.’ ‘Clay Baby,’ a more straightforward, Kerns-sung tune that sounds as though it could have been on the band’s 2008’ debut, 'Get Better,' hits the listener over the head at the end with a burst of synthesizer and manic, fast-paced drumming. The pre-chorus of ‘Oahu, Hawaii,' on the other hand, includes a brooding string section that creates a moment of tension before the band breaks into the comparatively light, sunny chorus. There’s also album closer 'Ruby,' one of Lemuria’s darkest tracks to date, with cutting, angular guitar, pounding drums and some truly anguished lyrics (“Caught your deviant heart / bringing another heaven / I was just a clock / a fixer up of evidence”).
Perhaps one of the most recognizable elements of Lemuria’s sonic palette is the coed vocals, which either harmonize in unison or serve as a sort of call-and-response that allows Ozzella and Kerns to play off each other, both lyrically and melodically. Although Kerns’ vocals, when paired with Ozzella’s, occasionally dip into monotone, the result is a powerful, albeit slightly dissonant harmony that elevates almost every chorus to something memorable. (It's not unlike the dual vocals of X’s Exene Cervenka and John Doe.) On ‘The Distance Is So Big,’ the vocals are at their best; tracks like ‘Bluffing Statistics’ and ‘Oahu, Hawaii’ find the two easily achieving sweet melodic harmony amidst the chaos.
Although generally lumped in with the indie-punk scene, Lemuria have an expansive, varied sound capable of winning them a wider audience. If the quality of the material on this album is any indication, the distance they'd need to travel to go from touring underground band to mainstream success is not so big at all.