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Published: 2005/05/08

After All – Percy Hill

If Percy Hill has drawn a bevy of comparisons to Steely Dan, most of them are probably justified. The veteran jam-outfit has a tendency to evoke the same post-coke habit 70's lite-stoner rock sound and polishes its production with the same obsessive-compulsive zeal. Combined with the band's jam sensibility and multi-stylistic welding, those qualities managed to churn out a debut album, in the form of Colour In Bloom, impressive enough to pull down a Jammy award. In retrospect, however, what made that album impressive wasn’t as much what it had captured on its own as much as what it presupposed — namely a record greater and, hopefully, darker than itself.

There is some irony then in the fact that with After All , the much anticipated follow-up, it is the same essential dynamic that reveals the band’s shortcomings. Like Steely Dan, the sterile quality of the band’s sound and mellow, Moog-laden soundscapes, infused with reverberations of ’70s soul, often tend to become to smooth to be compelling. Oftentimes, the music seems to be caught in some nether region similar to where Steely Dan’s sound would stagnate, disenchanted by the excesses of the ’60s and pointing an ominous finger towards the tanktops, short shorts, Reaganomics, and pandemic musical atrocities of a decade that would serve mostly as a parody of American Culture. The salvation for Becker and Fagan, who compounded the problem by recruiting some of the cheesiest backing sections in the history of rock, came in the form of their often rather twisted songwriting, yet the songs penned for Percy’s third studio release tend to express the same lack of conflict and urgency as the contexts in which they are placed.

"St. Lucilia," one of the more succinct examples of that non-threatening ethos, conjures up Paul Simon over a calypso groove, while the more minimalist "Dreamer," a sparse composition setting Wilson's organ work and Joe Farrell's delicate jazzy guitar fills underneath Katz's breathy vocals, cleaves deeper into the band's soul leanings. More impressive is the expansive "Door #5," which — after getting on its feet with the same mellow jazz influences — bursts into a series of mutated structures that advertise the band's improvisational acumen and eclectic tastes, despite being outlined by the same feeling of tepid resignation.

In being far more compelling when it is experimenting with the limitations of its sound, and relatively bland when it isn't, the song serves as a neat microcosm of the competing forces at work. While each of those tracks, anchored in the majority by Wilson's impressive keys, advertise the same chops and creativity that had everyone clamoring over the debut, the album severely lacks a dose of rawness and naturalism to counteract its collection of slick surfaces and exuberant melodies.

Despite having the tools, Percy often seems to be less concerned with making compelling, evocative music than indulging in some clichidea of what it means to be a jamband flirting with danceable pop forms. As a result , After All tends to come off like an improvisation-laden soundtrack for a soft-core porn, ultimately more satisfying to Percy Hill fans looking for a reprise of their earlier work than to those rooting for them to fulfill their musical promise.

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