The EP, as a concept, can have different functions for different people. The can be used stopgap for bands when they don’t have quite enough to release a whole album, see the Pixies’ latest releases. The can be used for looking to experiment, like The Decemberists’ ‘The Tain’. They can be used as a showcase for a single which doesn’t have an album to sit on yet, like Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church’.
In the last few years, thanks to easy, faster and cheaper production, the EP has replaced the traditional demo for a band looking to garner some attention. For Limerick-Dublin band Animal Beats that’s just how their EP, ‘Cheap Carnival’ comes across.
The band jump from sound to sound never really focusing on a single direction. Opener Water To Sound starts off like Futureheads (with truly exceptional vocal harmonies that are never reused in the EP), before going all pop power, via a Smashing Pumpkins-esque riff.
Wondering is a middle of the road piano ballad, like Daniel Powter on a downbeat day, while Hollow Mountain is like a collaboration between Brendan Benson and Andrew Stockdale, certainly vocally. Closer If He Goes Down, the highlight of the album, is four minutes of fantastic power pop.
For too much of the album though, the lyrics seem whiny and apologetic. Water to Sand, for example, tells of a man damaged by a recent break-up. “Stitch me up and I’ll be on my way,” Johnny McDonnell sings showing signs of resolve, right up to the moment the backing vocals come in repeating “I need you.”
Piano ballad Wondering has a similarly apologetic style while If He Goes Down, with its line “He had a heart of gold but it was rusted by the cold,” again tells of a self-sorry man; and one who doesn’t know some of the basics of chemistry. Hollow Mountain could also be viewed as a story of a man feeling empty within.
While there is a place for songs of pain and agony, they don’t sound right dressed up as power pop anthems. Long before the end of the 18 minute playing time, the lyrics become grating. At least Taylor Swift has the self respect to bad-mouth her exes before she wraps her pain in catchy, upbeat choruses.
Animal Beats don’t ever even seem angry in their situation. There is a dichotomy in their sound: their lyrics want to elicit sympathy (they don’t) while their music sound more like it’s trying to start a party.
Having said all that, Animal Beats should not be written off just yet. They are clearly proficient musicians and ‘Cheap Carnival’ shows that they can write and arrange good tunes. Everything on the EP is certainly listenable and never bad. They just need a clearer focus on one sound and find a way for their words and to sit in harmony.