You can't be everything to everyone: It's a cliché, sure, but as a platitude, it's only as overused as it is useful and true. For the latest evidence, see Monsters, the sometimes great and sometimes dreadful sophomore effort from Wilmington's Onward, Soldiers.
Two years ago, the quartet sprang forward as a revved-up folk outfit with a taste for Southern rock. They paired frenetic acoustic structures with swampy electrified riffs, turning in anthems that were ramshackle, charming and effective.
It would be unfair to say that Monsters isn't a step forward. The band plays with a polish that outshines anything they've done in the past. The problem is that they can't figure out in which direction they want to take that new gleam. Opener "Telling Nobody" is a jaunty slice of piano pop with a bouncing gait ready-made for the next iPod commercial. But track two, "Nighttime Sky," switches to desert rock complete with bongos, warbling guitar lines and mariachi-style horns. Sean Thomas Gerard adapts his gruff pipes to these opposing tasks with an enviable seamlessness.
Both songs open up possibilities that demand further exploration. But rather than tap these parallel veins, the band rushes through a series of scattershot ideas, many of which fail miserably. The title track pushes pitifully through dark funk, the bass line fumbling through a regurgitated groove, the guitar settling for lifeless fills. "Leap Year" is worse still. The band expects dramatic, reverb-drenched drumming to salvage a poorly penned piano ballad. It's only a boring, overwrought mess.
On Monsters, Onward, Soldiers' restlessness is their worst enemy. Failing to take their time, many of their new songs end up slapdash and unsatisfying. Their talent is clear, but their focus is not.