Deathray

Simply put, Deathray is a decent pop band that is only really notable because they are made up primarily of ex-Cake members. If you didn't read the story on that page, here's basically what happened - Cake had a huge hit with "The Distance" in 1996, catapulting the band to fame, particularly singer John McCrea. Although McCrea is responsible for almost all the band's material, it was actually Greg Brown who wrote the song, and as a result there was a rift between the two...I don't really know the details, but both Brown and bassist Victor Damiani left and formed Deathray with former Sacramentite Dana Gumbinger (who had toured under a number of different names) and recruited a drummer and keyboard player to fill the holes. In 2002, original Cake drummer Todd Roper also joined Deathray, giving them more original members than Cake themselves. That said, this band doesn't really sound at all like Cake. They're retro too, but indebted a lot more to power pop like Big Star and the Cars. Gumbinger writes most of the songs and sings, so it's his personality that comes out the most. They're proficient at what they do, but what they do is pretty generic pop music, and in the end they simply didn't get signed after they got dropped from Capricorn. They're not exactly going to become anyone's favorite band, but their albums are generally a good listen, and while they did show signs of becoming something more than just another pop band, but it just didn't happen - in 2007 the group split. I have no idea what any of the group's members have been doing since (maybe they got jobs?) but Greg Brown did wind up guesting on Cake's 2011 album, suggesting that perhaps, life does go on.

Deathray (2000)
If you like power-pop, and you really like the Cars, you'll almost certainly like this debut album by Deathray. They don't cover the Cars, but on some tracks ("My Lunatic Friends", "Check it Over"), they might as well be - they even use the same keyboards! Dana Gumbinger has an okay voice, breathy and a little self-assured, but he does fine here, since he's clearly writing for himself. They're certainly capable of spinning out good tunes - opener "My Lunatic Friends" is written like a single, and is a pretty good riff-rocker with a fine chorus. They're practically a textbook on 90's power pop - they do harmonies well, structure their songs in a precise and uniform way, and include enough distortion and electronic effects to stand out but not enough to be really intriguing. The one track they do deck out with wonky electronic production is a standout ("Baby Polygon") - not to say it's the best on the album, but it's odd enough to be worth a few listens. The producer was Eric Valentine, whose name you might have recognized from the back of a Smash Mouth album. I think he was trying to make this record a hit along the lines of Fastball's All the Pain Money Can Buy, and although this is about as good, Deathray never wrote a song as good as "The Way" or "Fire Escape". Still, who knows, if this was released in 1997 and not 2000, it could have been a hit. I suspect that Valentine toned this group down quite a bit (for better or worse) - the slower songs such as "Now That I Am Blind" are catchy and agreeable, but they don't really get a chance to rock out, even though some of the songs call for it ("My Lunatic Friends", "Happy New Year", "This Time"). In addition, a lot of these songs don't really sound complete - they do the build up well, but they don't really build up to anything ("Legionnaires in Doubt", "Scott", "Zero"). That said, some of these are good from start to finish ("10:15", "Only Lies", "Now That I Am Blind"). I don't know what else to say about this album - it's easily digestable, fun, and mostly catchy, and when you get down to it there's not a bad song on here. But it's all hooks and no substance, and in the end you may find yourself wondering if there are more Cars albums to buy (2011 update: there are!) I can't think of a more clear-cut three star album.

White Sleeves EP (2002)
I know I sound pretty critical of this group, but I do hand it to them for this release, which is worth hearing despite only having five songs on it. If there was any signal that Deathray could become more interesting than your average pop band, this was it. "Make and Do" is a gorgeous, floating ballad, with breathy vocals and a great strum-along melody, and "White Sleeves" is a very distorted riff rocker that sounds like it's going to fall apart at any moment. Both rely as much on their unique production as they do good songwriting, and as a result they're the best two songs this band ever released. There are only three more songs, so I might as well name them all - "Not the Same" is a melancholy ballad with a great vocal line, "Making Sure It's Canada" is a guitar-based half-tune drenched in reverb, and "Let's Be Friends" is a decent slice of power pop, though I liked the more fleshed out version that would appear on the next album. Not to say the songs on the debut were bad, but I dig this EP more because it showcases a few more directions the band could have possibly gone in, actually painting them as more than just "competent". It stands to reason these guys could get it together and put out an awesome full-length...

Believe Me (2005)
...but they didn't. This is definitely more "far out" than the debut, but the hooks aren't as good this time around. They seem to re-use the "whooosh" effect that they did during the chorus of "This Time" a lot. I'll review this later...all I can say now is the two best tracks are the spruced up "Let's Be Friends" (from the EP) and "Cold Blue Sun", which is pretty catchy, even if it's a rip of Sublime's "April 29, 1992". They didn't find a record label for this one, so it was released digitally, with only a few CD copies in existance.

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If this article gets even one comment, I'll review the second album!