Challenging Stage (EP)


Self-published, 2004

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It seems like there've been a lot of bands these past few years who think they can get by on earnestness… y'know, the attitude that if they're just serious enough about their music, it will automatically be good. What these bands tend to miss is the importance of entertainment value. A little flair, please, and hold that winking close-up for an extra beat...

Entertainment value is definitely not an issue for Spiraling, a keyboard-driven quartet that puts Ben Folds, the Cars, Weezer, Rush, Death Cab For Cutie and Queen in a blender and hits frappe. The chief mad scientist is singer/songwriter/keyboardist/producer Tom Brislin, aided and abetted by the audacious talents of bandmates Marty O'Kane (guitars), Bob Hart (bass) and Paul Wells (drums).

Brislin's songs are whimsical, self-mocking little character sketches, drenched in irony and mounted atop a musical foundation full of energy and invention. This EP -- the follow-up to the band's promising 2002 full-length my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Transmitter -- features four completely distinct and, yes, thoroughly entertaining tracks.

The disc leads off with a taste of white noise and the chunky, angular, proggy-sounding guitar riff that anchors "A Face For Radio" (whose one failing is its clichéd title). Old-school synthesizer tones swirl in and out as Brislin throws all the snide he can muster at lines like "You got it made / What does 'got it made' mean, anyway / If you don't make anything? / No, you do not make anything…"

"Ah Sugar" is pure novelty, and pretty damn funny at that. Our narrator, this time supported by an expertly textured backdrop of kamikaze piano and faux-prog synths, whines his way through a trio of addictions, starting with good old glucose. I laughed out loud at the end of the first verse of this one; I won't spoil it for you.

(It's also amusing to note that this is bizarre little number has the most proggy, Rick Wakeman-esque synthesizers on the disc, since Brislin's biggest gig to date was sitting in on Yes's symphonic tour a couple of years back, essentially warming the keyboard seat until Wakeman -- by most accounts the wittiest man ever to be in Yes -- was himself ready to return to the fold.)

Perhaps the most commercially-inclined -- not to mention brilliantly titled -- track here is "Texas Is The Reason," a cut that kicks off sounding somewhat like Geddy Lee and The Edge playing a song co-written by Ric Ocasek and Donald Fagen. In other words, a frenetic bassline and airy, dynamic guitar figures, counter-balanced by a deeply sardonic yet appealingly demented lyric.

Closer "You Can't Get There" starts out life as an atmospheric piano ballad but builds into something much more interesting. The combination of rich harmonies, all-over-the-map piano flourishes and thunderous guitar chords suggests Queen, but really, it's a piece that stands on its own, right down to the steady-building jam that closes the song out in style.

Despite a multitude of influences, Spiraling is like nothing you can hear on radio today, and that alone would give me reason to cheer them on. Powerhouse melodies, self-lacerating wit and bravura musicianship -- now that's what I call entertainment.

[Editor's note: For more information or to purchase Challenging Stage or Transmitter , visit]

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2004 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Self-published, and is used for informational purposes only.