Houston, We’ve Got Problems! – Welcome to the Moon, Friend

Welcome to the moon, friend cover art

Artist Houston, We’ve Got Problems!
Album Welcome to the Moon, Friend
Genre Post-Rock
Buy/DL Bandcamp
Web Last.fm
Label Independent
Release 27 May 2012
Rating:  Good

A week or so back I began a review by breaking down the evolution of so-called “emo” music. I did this so that I could basically liken the reviewed band to some third wave “emo” music that was more experimental and progressive, providing the link to the more straight ahead instrumental rock faction of third wave post rock.  Well, we have the same sort of historic diagram at work here, except I’m not referring to bands like Mineral or Jejune, but more a band like early to mid career Jawbreaker and Samiam.

Kaliningrad, Russia’s Houston, we’ve got problems! share some of this DNA, at least in the respect that they could easily, if they so desired, be playing a very good version of that sort of music. With the addition of vocals, this could easily be melodic neo-bay area power punk, with the underpinning taut drama that is quite challenging to pull off without sounding cheesy.  That’s one of the standout elements that make “Welcome to the moon, friend” such an interesting listen.

This is no one trick pony, however, and another great part of this album is the more progressive side, which is for lack of a better term, a sort of classic progressive, in the vein of Rush. Though the structures of the songs aren’t super far out, and Houston, we’ve got problems! keeps the song length down to around the 3-minute mark, they certainly excel at keeping things exciting and fresh. These are two sort of disparate strengths for a band to have without going the noisier route or making psychedelic epics a la Hawkwind, and it’s like a cool drink of water.

While songs like “What the hell happens now” have a more typical third wave introductory figure, in this instance with a nice addition of piano, things don’t stay mid-tempo for long. This album is fast. Not gore-grind fast, but thoroughly more high tempoed then most third wave we normally hear. That coupled with the strutting bass and strong yet restrained guitar layering just ups the tension quotient. Even with the delays and reverbs things are still very direct. This is illustrated nicely on their cover version of fellow countrymen Powder! Go Away’s “Laika still wants to go home.”  Houston, we’ve got problems! just seems to play faster and more direct.  Hell, “It’s just a joke” is one of the most “rocking” post-rock tracks I’ve heard in quite a while, especially from an arguably third wave steeped band.

What unfortunately stops this refreshing and enjoyable album from getting higher praise from me is the production quality. The sound itself is very good, which serves to nicely highlight the very skilled musicianship here. The problem is more with overall editing and certain areas of mixing that are very sudden and jarring. This throws the listener completely out of the flow of things, and ultimately, upon repeated listens, sticks out more and more, until it’s an irritant. It’s a shame too, because, these guys can play their asses off, and as I stated above, the actual mix, including great guitar and bass tone, is very well done and fits perfectly.

I’d love to overlook these few deficits and laud this release more, but as an astute and repeat listener, I just can’t get over the few cut off’s and stiff editing moments here. I’m guessing that they were low on studio time, and didn’t get to smooth everything out before they had to move on to the next phase of production.

With any luck, next time, Houston, we’ve got problems! can polish their gem just a tad more. I’m hoping so, because they’re a young band and I really enjoyed the more rock edged songs and the great playing on “Welcome to the moon, Friend.” It’s still a very worthwhile listen, and also woefully underexposed.