Challenger - The World is Too Much For Me
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: Nov. 27, 2012
As their name indicates, the music of Challenger isn't exactly facile. That is to say, if you're up for something light and quick, pass on the disc and give Taylor Swift's Red a spin. If in fact you want something tactile, genuine and, well, challenging, then give this disc a spin.
The album opens with "Age of Apathy," a 1:15 instrumental track that opens with a children's chorus and then segues into something celestial and airy. Album openers are always supposed to make a resounding statement and "Age of Apathy," does exactly that. Even with all its charms, "Age of Apathy," is no match for "Are You Scared Too?," which finds Challenger making perhaps its boldest statement to date.
Ostensibly a three-part epic that is as much daring as it is divine, the song opens with a hushed and ethereal motif before almost going completely silent at the 1:40 mark. And then over a dim whir of atmospherics, vocalist John Ross begins a prayer to St. Eric as an aimless wanderer tries to find its way home and curses the drugs in his system. And then the solemn prayer is lifted upward and the song unravels into a jaunty pseudo blues jam.
"I Am Switches," is a sweetly affecting valentine and easily one of the disc's finest efforts. A dead-ringer for a single, the song pulses with a vibrancy, urgency and effortlessness that is far too hard to ignore. To put it succinctly, there are probably bands 20 years into a career that wish they could write a song this prescient, passionate and well, perfect. Ross even channels his inner Francophile against a backdrop of stuttering synths and swerving celestial noise.
The piano-driven "To Discourage the Insincere," is a bubbly and bright effort and easily one of the album's most sincere and genuine efforts. There's a sort of wordily wooziness to the pop landscape here that works quite well and reveals another layer to the band's inherent charms.
"The World is Too Much For Me" dives right into night-club nostalgia on the synth-driven send-up. While it has a flair and panache that many will find enjoyable, it is easily the weakest song on the disc and if the album has any hiccups its that its title track could not be more memorable. But alas, few things are ever perfect.
The genius of Challenger is that Ross wears his heart on his sleeve and sings of personal experience so authentic and rich it is nearly impossible not to support them. While the album drips with examples of this, nowhere is that more apparent than on the plaintive and lilting "Don't Die." Whereas "Don't Die," is melancholic and moody, its successor is anything but. "Life in the Paint" is the disc's most urgent and inspired effort and has a sense of desperation and anxiety that seems to resonate almost perfectly with the song's brisk and breezy electro-pop landscape.
"Takers" revisits the jaunty guitar jam that ended "Are You Scared Too?," and dives a bit deeper. There's more teeth and grit at work here and its an arrangement that actually serves the band quite well. Building on the anxiety and urgency of "Life in the Paint," "Takers" seems to find the band channeling its own arena-rock plateau and one certainly hopes the band revisits that sound on future efforts.
The five minute epic "How Are My Thoughts Not My Own?" is arguably the disc's apex moment and seems to take all of the collective energies of the previous seven tracks into one tour-de-force. The song starts calm, gauzy and self-assured and gradually builds into something towering, triumphant and borderline cinematic. If the song fails to win you over, then perhaps Challenger isn't the band for you.
The World is Too Much For Me more or less ends with penultimate cut "Is There a Safe Place We Can Go?," which opens with the refrain "The way you feel will make it real," and that opening salvo almost serves as the band's modus operandi. From start to finish, every second of The World Is Too Much For Me is imbued with both feeling and reality. Some artists can feign enthusiasm, energy or sincerity, but Challenger is most certainly not one of them. Every song quivers and shakes with a sense that the disc is as important to the quartet as the air they breathe. The World Is Too Much For Me ends with "Age of Apathy (reprise)," which is arguably stronger than the original "Age of Apathy," and serves itself well as a closing statement.
Perhaps what makes the disc so amazing is its sense of place. Challenger are native Floridians living in New York City. But the Sunshine State is never far from their mind and the songs on The World Is Too Much For Me reveal that. Whether singing about cab rides to Ybor City, the pines of I-95 or a fun night in Tallahassee, its obvious that their roots very much define their experiences. That kind of connectivity makes the disc that much more compelling. Its easy to write songs and pass them off as facts, but when the songs are rooted to your hometown (and in this case home state), there's an arresting quality that makes the disc so much more intimate and indelible.