University can be an incredibly competitive place. While most are trying to set blood-alcohol records, some maniacs compete for the best marks. Along with that, there is the urban legend that sometimes floats around about the two students tied for the top spot in the class. When it is exam time, the first top student sets pen to paper with insane ferocity. The velocity is so great that this student writes ten pages while everyone else only manages six. The second top student reads the questions, re-reads it, and spends a very long time thinking. In the end, this student writes two, maybe three pages, but it is undiluted brilliance.
Of the two, The Cynical Store are most certainly the second student. One can’t help but think that these songs start life with the whole band thrashing about as most bands do. As rehearsal bleeds into recording, however, the band does brutal surgery to excise all but the most important elements of the song. This economy of sound gives The Cynical Store’s music Tokyo Metro levels of precision. And yet, the atmosphere is undeniably laid back. It is a feat of band dynamics that the songs can be so focused yet effortless in execution.
The payoff is that The Cynical Store are thoroughly steeped in ultra cool. Clearly these guys have been wearing sunglasses at night, while sleeping, and probably while showering since early childhood. Their music contains that certain ineffable aura that suggests that the band can command a room without theatrics, and possibly without emoting whatsoever. In other words, this isn’t the record you put on post breakup, that is, unless you want to be some sort of stoic bastion of emotional control rather than a blubbering mess. To put it succinctly, in attitude and song structure The Cynical Store are not that far off from Spoon.
However, the atmosphere is someplace decidedly un-Spoon. The Cynical Store lean heavily on minor keys, giving the band a vibe that is surprisingly spooky. Still, this is not a theatrical, grandiose sort of spooky. Rather with their organs and theremin-like synths the group embraces a much more carnival-esque type of horror. Think an uber-cool version of the greatly missed Black Heart Procession.
Brocken Jr. is the best example of their dark and windy (let’s be honest, they don’t get worked up into a storm) sound. Those eighth note stabs of the organ are small and quick, but set the stage perfectly. In fact, those organ stabs embrace what’s so great about The Cynical Store. They are fast, and barely there, but leave a hell of an impression.
By contrast, and the contrast is not especially great, Secret Window is probably the lightest moment on the album. The difference is not enormous, as Secret Window only registers as bright as “whimsical with a serious undercurrent of melancholy.” Elsewhere, on E.S.P. the band approaches something almost dance-y. However it is a music critic sort of dance-y in that it packs a rhythmic punch, but no self-respecting DJ would ever play it in a club.
As a whole, one might say the album lacks variety. A better way to put it is that The Cynical Store excel at variations on a theme. Besides, bands as cool as them aren’t exactly gunning for the entire spectrum of human emotions. No, The Cynical Store are hip surgeons making spooky cool rock. As the only band operating in this niche, they are head and shoulders the best at it.
The Cynical Store