Geographer exists somewhere between the emotive synth pop arias of Depeche Mode and the earnest coffeehouse-meets-arena-rock of fellow Bay Area acts Train and Counting Crows.
With echoes of The Killers, Geographer’s latest release, Ghost Modern (out now on Roll Call Records) tries to sound big — U2 big, the kind of watershed record that burns up the charts while soundtracking a generation.
Central to Geographer’s sound is vocalist and primary songwriter Michael Deni’s remarkable and angelic tenor, a sort of blending of the vulnerability of Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz with Daryl Hall’s soulful chops and Bono’s theatrics.
Lyrically, Deni is the archetypical sensitive modern rocker, aiming mostly to make the girls go “aww” with ultimately meaningless lines like: “You say you love me/ You know I just can’t deal/ I want to know what you mean.”
Backing up Deni are the Far East-tinged floral string arrangements of “I’m Ready.” Elsewhere, “You Say You Love Me” is reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” before veering towards Paula Abdul and ending up a hook-heavy crowd-pleaser.
Hook-heavy crowd-pleasers are Ghost Modern’s stock in trade. Is it successful? Despite tons of promise and talent, I’m afraid the answer is an astounding sorta.
The record starts strong but slips and never recovers into a forgettable middle section. There’s impeccable production, some fine musicianship and Deni’s truly remarkable singing voice. Missing, however, are enough songs to turn the ear of a generation, which is the kind of lofty ambition Geographer positively reeks of.
None of this means you shouldn’t listen. What’s sorely lacking from modern music is time for bands to grow, hit their stride and release their opus. And Geographer has all the ingredients of greatness.
Geographer plays with Portland’s Weather Machine 9:30 pm Saturday, March 28, at Sam Bond’s; $10. 21-plus.