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Beautiful Afterburn

But it right here!

Released: 1/1/2002

Vancouver’s Coal has a sound, dreamy-dark-western-goth-pop, and an identity in vocalist Nicole Steen, who seems to enjoy singing with a mountain of echo behind her like a rain-shadow pressing up against the Rockies.

Formed in 1990, Coal features Nicole Steen, Marcus Rogers, Jon Wood and Ian Tiles. Previous releases found the members of Coal generally drifting in and out of atmospheric hazes. This branded and tagged them as being an ethereal psychedelic western noir lounge act – not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, there’s something disconcerting about constantly drowning in the vibe of one’s own coolness.

Coal may be attempting to break away from all this stereotyping with the release of Beautiful Afterburn. It is no surprise that Beautiful Afterburn leads off with their most accessible track, ‘My Rocket’ - an intelligently, enthusiastic and infectious song. Unfortunately the rest of the CD seems to have been designed to resist commercial airplay. The blending of so many styles, country, surf, rock, folk and Goth tends to be a bit ambitious and in this case confuses. While trying to be virtually everything to everyone is a remarkable goal, the task is next to impossible for mere mortal bands. That being said, the songs still fit rather neatly into the vintage style of post-Joy Division gothic rock. The songs for the most part are yesterdays dressed up ballads but there’s a good reason why they sound so curiously out of date. They are all dark, funereal – slow or fast, and they all have the same relentless overcast timbre. Must be something about living in Vancouver. Let’s hope they don’t move to Seattle. The guitars never break out of the murky heartfelt twang, which worked so well for fellow Vancouverite Neko Case and her Boyfriends in Furnace Room Lullaby, but with Coal there’s something missing in the delivery.

Now none of these points are necessarily condemning; some of the best music ever made can be described as humorless wads of gloom but there is an air of predictability on Beautiful Afterburn from the onset. And there’s just one problem with the strategy of being “everyman” – we never really hear the moment of sentimentality, where Nicole Steen really serenades and captures us for it’s lost in all the clutter. Coal music can be clever enough to get us buying but it is neither cerebral nor emotional enough to convince us to take the journey. To be fair, the musical approach of this genre has a tendency to run straight towards cliché. Coal sounds like an extremely talented bunch of individuals trapped inside a strategy. Beautiful Afterburn isn’t a bad CD but it doesn’t reward attentive listening either.

Gordon McDonald Email WWW


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