Ostensibly, the Brooklyn blog darlings have taken five years off to study several chapters of the Big Indie Rock Book of the 00s. At various turns the band recall everyone from The Killers, Muse and The National to Youth Group, Stellastarr*, and fellow Brooklynites Pela.
Opener “Same Mistake” (easily a Killers B-side) and the almost identical title track “Hysterical” set the tone for what is a straightforward, basic indie rock album. You could play it in the car for your friends as a compromise between your indie-leaning iPod and their insistence on listening to Drake, or Lady Gaga or something. Your mom would probably dig it. Or just think it was The Killers.
When the band plays this record live, many fans will undoubtably experience that “wait, didn’t they already play this song?” moment from “Same Mistake” to “Hysterical” to “Into Your Alien Arms,” “Yesterday, Never” and “Ketamine And Ecstacy.”
With the exception of acoustic, Bends-esque “In A Motel” — a quieter, more nuanced tune and a welcome break from the overly epic grandeur of the rest of the album — and closer “Adam’s Plane,” it’s hard to tell one song apart from the next, and many will just fade into the background. 16th-notes on the hi-hat with bass-snare-bass-snare beats? Check. Chiming guitars? Check. Washy synthesized strings? Check.
Again with the exception of “In A Motel,” Alec Ounsworth’s vocals don’t seem to find their place, switching from Brandon Flowers/Bono-esque melodrama to an off-kilter, nasal Dylan impression that struggles to cut through the perfect, cookie-cutter veneer of the music.
Which is to say, the production on Hysterical is perfect. These songs might as well have been recorded in a stadium with the reverb set to 11. Aesthetically it’s almost hard not to like, just because it sounds so pretty.
But as always, too much of a good thing isn’t great. Pretty melodies and big production are bland when there’s seemingly no point behind it.