There are many wrong-headed reasons to loathe Coldplay (their educational background, their emotional vulnerability, their mass appeal), but it's hard to deny that their vast influence on British music has been mostly negative. Not all of the pallid balladeers that followed have been awful, with the maligned Keane capable of stutters of real brilliance and even Snow Patrol occasionally lovely, but most have been woeful. And Animal Kingdom now join those ranks: for all Signs and Wonders’ surface prettiness, it is a weak and watery debut, sonically and melodically shallow.
It’s also hopelessly derivative: if the band don’t want to be accused of theft, they shouldn’t be incompetent burglars and leave the evidence in plain view. Just one listen to the keening riff that props up Into the Sea confirms its blatant resemblance to Coldplay’s White Shadows, while Richard Sauberlich’s hapless wail of “this is really happening” during Home is lifted directly from Radiohead’s Idioteque. There are dozens of other borrowings, all from the same narrow, obvious range of sources: Coldplay, Radiohead, The Beatles, Mercury Rev, The Byrds.
Of course, those bands are capable of exquisite beauty, and Signs and Wonders does sometimes sound lovely, if fussily overproduced. The opening Good Morning is slight but sweet, with its Lennon-esque backing vocals and brisk acoustic guitars, while the penultimate Bright Lights is a moving, melancholic epic in the vein of Mercury Rev. In between, there are odd flashes of gorgeous melody, as in the hushed, seductive verses of Tin Man or the stumbling phrasing of Home.
Mostly, however, the band sound uninspired yet self satisfied, a queasy combination. Silence Summons You is undernourished acoustic whimsy, while Into the Sea’s account of a businessman’s suicide is turgid in sound and sixth form in theme. For a band aiming for emotional connection, Sauberlich’s lyrics are low on insight or empathy. The album is also remarkably one note and singularly paced, so that when the band finally do something unexpected – like letting loose the abrupt, flamboyant guitar surges that close Yes Sir, Yes Sir – the listener may be too stupefied to notice.
If Animal Kingdom are to be remembered as anything more than the death rattle of a long-sickly musical trend, they must deliver a vastly more original and interesting second record. Frankly, they don’t sound up to it. --Jaime Gill
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Animal Kingdom follow the limited edition singles "Chalk Stars" and "Tin Man" with the release of their debut album Signs and Wonders
. Recorded at Seattle’s Electrokitty Studios with Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Les Savy Fav), the melancholy Signs and Wonders
finds the London quartet countering immediate pop hooks with unpredictable arrangements and a dark, reflective soul. Developed over a six week period, Signs and Wonders
includes the delicately crafted, emotive pop of the debut single "Chalk Stars", the dreamy, infectious hook that gives the lovelorn "Tin Man" an otherworldly atmosphere and the eerie flow of "Two By Two".