The Phantom Tollbooth
the absent sounds of me
Artist: Dear Ephesus
Label: Bulletproof
Length: 13 tracks / 54:15 minutes
 
Dear Ephesus' debut The Consolation of Pianissimo was released to mixed opinions. While there were plenty of people who enjoyed it, the album seemed to strike a bad note with many indie rock fans, who saw the band as passing themselves off falsely as "emo" or who simply disliked Aaron Weiderspahn's vocals.
 
For me, this follow-up release is both a step forward and one backward. The band feel more confident and show growth in their arrangements and songwriting, but the mix is rather muddier than before. While that is something that often appeals to fans of this genre, it doesn't seem to suit Dear Ephesus quite so well; many of the intricate guitar lines are obscured, and the vocals lack the clarity that Weiderspahn's lyrical imagery could do with.
 
Weiderspahn's artistry extends beyond his music to the visual arts, and his lyrics are probably best taken in as one would appreciate a painting, by taking a step back and exploring the whole before considering each individual phrase. The sum of these parts is in a way impressionist, as a blur of images is presented which together suggest scenes and emotions. Those scenes and emotions are clearly painted on the backdrop of a disaffected, postmodern society, and it is the observation of this society and his own place within it that dominates Weiderspahn's lyrics.
 
The music is probably best described as "not quite emo." There are certainly guitar lines which are more carefully textured and intricately played than in a lot of modern rock, and the vocals convey a great deal of emotion, but the mix is still brighter and cleaner than that favoured by Sunny Day Real Estate and company.
 
One of the strongest releases in its genre to emerge on a Christian label, this album still falls a little short of the production standard that would really make it a gem. Nevertheless, this will make a fine accompaniment for those who enjoyed Dear Ephesus' debut.
 
James Stewart  (5/12/99)