By RFT Music
By Drew Ailes
By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
Rising from the ashes of lovable spazz-pop band Berlin Whale, Exercise takes a more spacious, meandering view of the pop song on its full-length debut, Grandma's House. The herky-jerky vibrations of the trio's previous band have been slowed down and drawn out, not unlike a cassette tape that's been left out in the sun. The warped cassette may be an apt analogy; singer Trevor Berkholtz is credited with playing "tapes" alongside guitar and Casiotone, and the brief sound collage that opens "Claustrophobe," as well as the decaying vocals on "Panama," point to a more experimental, slightly musique concrète direction. While such sonic tinkering is all well and good, it doesn't help Grandma's House coalesce into a compelling album. These songs are neither muscular rock songs nor bold sonic diversions; they are stuck somewhere in art-rock limbo.
Most of the songs spill over the five-minute mark, and though this is hardly an eternity, the vague, shapeless tunes wear out their welcome by the halfway point. The album is divided into nine tracks, but it sounds more like 25 song-snippets (some great, some not) that either never get fleshed out or get stretched too thin. However, a song like "Tail Feather" proves that the trio can marshal its strengths — creative rhythms, emotive vocals, spacey atmospherics — and construct a winning song. For Exercise, it's not a matter of cutting out the "challenging" parts; it's more about making the weirdness work in the context of the band's bare-bones rock songs.
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