The B-side record is an idea that inevitably seals its own fate: a collection of songs that weren’t good enough the first time around. (Really the “B” might as well stand for “bitch,” because more often than not it’s a rather unpleasant thing to behold.) Even the best collections (insert Mr. Steven’s Avalanche) are usually nothing more than an experiment in self-obsessed prolificacy (however impressive) most likely irrelevant to anyone outside of the artist’s immediate throng of supporters and hangers-on. This one’s no different: Copeland cover the same ground as a fatrillion bands before them. New song, cover, remix, cover, remix, remix, new song—nothing terrible but nothing terribly exciting.
As a pop lover gone emo kid, gone indie snob, gone pop lover, I was practically nursed on South Florida emo-rock. None more telling than the regurgitations of my surrogate mother-bird figure, Copeland’s Aaron Marsh. It’s for this reason perhaps that _Dressed Up And In Line_ unfolds as such a potentially exciting, but ultimately disappointing offering. I am privy to the sight of my once-upon-a-mentor, as he/they rehash inferior versions of songs I loved, try to sell me on ones I don’t, wear their influences brightly on their sleeve, and record two (TWO!) terribly unnecessary versions of “Black Hole Sun.” The latter of which comes after 15 minutes of silence on the last “hidden” track. Apparently a joke, it ends up more painful than funny, to the point of embarrassment.
If music consisted of nothing more than harmony and falsetto, Copeland would be among the creme de la creme. We’re reminded of this in the form of an acoustic version of “Brightest,” from their 2003 debut. It catches me entirely off guard and immediately DeLorean’s me back to 18 years old: I’m in my basement, broken hearted (or so I wished), teary eyed (on the inside), life is just so big, my heart is just so big, the world revolves around me. I wish I was being sarcastic..But now I’m getting old, I’m losing hope, everything is exactly as it seems, and these songs are painfully nostalgic. Fortunately this lasts only 4 more minutes until “Thanks To You” – D.J. Cakeface remix (which might as well be titled, D.J. Imogen Heap-Face mix) un-suspends my belief. That’s right, they successfully remixed a brand new B-side (ensue slow clapping).
The truth is Copeland seem at home awash in late-90’s emo, proving without a doubt that being yourself, no matter how uncool, is infinitely better than hitching your wagon to the latest Pitchfork-approved trend. We are still occasionally reminded that Marsh is an above average songwriter, framing trite but slightly clever lines like “You’d break your neck to keep your chin up” with melodies and harmonies quite frankly beyond most of our abilities. Unfortunately his indulgence wins more often than it should; ie, the aforementioned lyric, repeated over and over until almost devoid of meaning. Not to mention the oh-so-understated title of the song, “Chin Up.” Perhaps his typical audience makes enemies of subtlety and earnestness, but one only needs to spend time with David Bazan or mewithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss for proof that the two devices are capable of coexisting.
Copeland was originally hoping to make this collection a 2-disc set, but due to lead singer Aaron Marsh’s medical reasons (thank God) things didn’t really pan out. One can only imagine what would’ve resulted in a record that already comes off as a half failed lesson in over-ambitious profundity, had it been stretched from the current 16 tracks to a ridiculous 32. As a whole it appears that isolation and insomnia (two things Marsh claims victim to) serve to falsely magnify the originality and brilliance of any given moment (even snickering and mumbling over an outro can seem like an innovative idea at 5 in the morning). Although it’s hard to grasp any time of day when it would seem inventive to record putting drums sticks down. We are swayed and wooed in the oscillation of come-and-go creativity, between glimpses of genuine beauty, and instances of exasperated sweat and energy. It’s not awful, it’s just that far too often, the whole thing smacks of effort.
For a band that worked so hard to replace emo success with indie cred, Copeland take two big steps backward, letting the dye fade to reveal their true roots. It makes us wonder if the snare sounds, violins, and Johnny Greenwood-esque guitars that made 2006’s _Eat, Sleep, Repeat_ so “indie”, were all just an attempt to band-aid over achingly emo lyrics and falsetto. A thought all the more upsetting to me considering how much I genuinely enjoyed that album. Yes, it appears as though dancing around the E word is the new claiming-you-were-never-grunge.
Jordan Kurtz is Patrol music editor.
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